A newly-released report suggests wide racial disparity in marijuana-related arrests in Buffalo and Erie County. Advocates for marijuana reform says it's one more reason why it's time laws changes to allow the regulation and taxation of pot in New York State.
The report, released by the Partnership for the Public Good in association with the Drug Police Alliance and Open Buffalo, shows that over a four year period, 77 percent of marijuana arrests in Erie County involved people of color, while 78 percent of Erie County's population is white.
Sam Magavern, the PPG's executive director, said of those arrested for marijuana possession, a majority are within another demographic that stands to lose a lot over a lifetime.
"In 2016, for example, 58 percent of the arrests were people age 25 or younger," he stated. "Getting arrested, obviously, is an extremely traumatic, disruptive event. But it also has consequences that can haunt you for years to come, when it comes to your housing, your employment, your health, all kinds of negative consequences flow from being arrested and they keep flowing for years on."
Most of those arrested in Buffalo end up represented by public defenders through the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo. Rebecca Town has been with the Bureau for eight years and says during her time in her position, fewer people are being arrested and kept in custody overnight but she is not seeing a large decrease in the number of people being charged with simply marijuana possession.
"Even if you don't get put into custody and spend at least one night in the Erie County Holding Center, the time and the costs that are incurred fighting these charges really can be astronomical, especially for my clients who have very little to begin with," Town said.
Supporters of marijuana policy reform say that by taxing and regulating the substance, New York has an opportunity to create a significant revenue source. Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes says neighbors including Canada, the State of Massachusetts and State of New Jersey are about to do so.
She also argues that by legalizing marijuana, New York State will save millions of dollars.
"If you're getting less people incarcerated, then it's costing government less money for the adjudication process, for the incarceration process and, quite frankly, for the process to take care of them and their families while they're gone and when they come back," she said. "You're decreasing the cost of government by arresting less people by legalizing marijuana."