When City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) criticized Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration for the large number of marijuana possession arrests made on his watch and advocated for legalizing medical marijuana, he said he was not dismissing the drug’s ill effects.
“Nobody wants people to go into an addiction,” Dromm said.
At a meeting of the New Visions Democratic Club at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, at 37-06 77th St., last Thursday, Dromm described himself to the 60-person crowd as a recovering alcoholic who had been clean and sober for 20 years.
He said while he believes there are those who struggle with marijuana addiction and that marijuana use should not be encouraged, the city and state should look at whether anti-marijuana enforcement is being done properly and the possibility of becoming the 17th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.
“It’s really a serious topic and it’s one whose time has come,” Dromm said.
Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said 50,683 people in the city were arrested for the lowest level of marijuana possession in 2011. He said more people have been arrested under Bloomberg’s administration than under Mayors Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani combined, even though marijuana usage was the highest in 1980.
Sayegh added that 86 percent of those arrested are black or Latino, even though white people use marijuana at a much higher rate.
“This is how so many of our youth get caught up in the criminal justice system,” Dromm said.
Sayegh said that in 1977 the state classified marijuana possession of 25 grams or less for personal use as a violation. But having marijuana in public view is a misdemeanor, and thus those found guilty can be subject to future problems in finding employment and public housing or can run into immigration difficulties if they are found guilty of it.
Sayegh contended many of these arrests occur when young people are stopped and frisked by police and asked to empty their pockets. He said if the marijuana remained in the person’s pocket, it would be a violation, but because they followed the police’s orders it becomes a misdemeanor.
While Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has reminded the department of the state law, Sayegh said possession arrests have still gone up.
“The commissioner’s order is not being followed,” he said.
Dromm said he has co-sponsored a city resolution in support of state Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) and state Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) which would standardize penalties for marijuana possession. He has also sponsored a city resolution urging the state to support medicinal marijuana.
Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who attended the meeting, said he thinks there would be some good in the legalization of medicinal marijuana, but said he was still studying the issue.
“I’m not completely there yet,” Peralta said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cn
©2012 Community News Group
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