NEW YORK CITY — As New York City wages war against a life-threatening virus, faces a mysterious and potentially fatal syndrome that targets children, and watches a raging battle between City Hall and NYPD over medical supplies and social distance policing, lawmakers say it’s time to legalize weed.
“We urgently need marijuana legalization,” said New York State Senators Jamaal Bailey, Brad Hoylman and Jessica Ramos in a press release issued Thursday, “rooted in racial and economic justice.”
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The state Senators and Legal Aid Society Thursday called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top lawmakers to enact a host of legislative measures to mitigate the novel coronavirus’s disproportionate impact on communities of color.
Health Department data show Black and brown New Yorkers are more likely to fall ill with the fatal virus and NYPD data show they make up the bulk of those penalized for social distancing violations.
“This pandemic has further undermined our clients’ ability to receive the equal justice to which they are entitled and which we are absolutely dedicated to provide,” Legal Aid Society CEO Janet Sabel said.
“There is now no question that we must act expediently to enact policies to improve economic, social, health, and criminal justice for New Yorkers across the state.”
The legislation package addresses concerns over housing, job loss and workers’ rights and the criminal justice system, and includes a bill to provide COVID-19 rental assistance, a worker bailout program funded by a billionaire tax, parole reform and, lastly, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.
The legislation calls for allowing New Yorkers over the age of 21 to use, grow and sell cannabis through a licensed and taxable system overseen by the state, which lawmakers argued could bring much needed cash flow to low income communities.
“The pandemic has compounded the long-standing disparate effects of economic deprivation on communities of color,” the lawmakers wrote. “That deprivation has been exacerbated by marijuana prohibition.”
Cuomo said in March legalizing marijuana is unlikely to be included in New York’s budget — contradicting the vow he made in his State of the State address — as his administration grapples with an urgent need for $61 billion in federal stimulus funds and the battle against COVID-19.
The Governor also noted in April that legalization could prove difficult to pass as lawmakers face a new normal of online, socially distanced governing.
“As far as getting into a very complex issue that requires real analysis and real data and trying to do that on Zoom conferences,” Cuomo said. “I don’t know that that’s the best way to do it.”