Patients, not Convicts

• New York still sends thousands of its citizens into prison every year for drug possession instead of making them patients in drug treatment centers. Incarceration is much more expensive than drug treatment, and the lack of treatment increases recidivism.

• In addition, New York, like many other states, has highly restrictive, unreasonable local zoning ordinances that don’t allow treatment centers to open, even though there is a large and growing need for them — the New York State Department of Health has estimated that 1.9 million New Yorkers have a substance abuse problem.

• Although about half of New York’s voters have tried marijuana, thousands of New Yorkers are still fined, arrested, and even jailed for using it. Ninety-one percent of the people arrested are minorities, even though minorities use marijuana at the same rates as whites. Legalization of marijuana would save New York hundreds of millions of dollars a year in enforcement, and in addition, avoid doing real harm to the lives of thousands of New Yorkers by defining them for life as “criminals” in the process.

• To save lives, lower crime, and ultimately save the state money, the New York State Constitution should enshrine the right to substance abuse rehabilitation. New York needs to send addicts into drug treatment centers instead of prison.  As Kara Dansky of the ACLU has written, “Drug addiction has become one of the many social problems that we’ve relegated to the criminal justice system. But as with homelessness and mental illness, handcuffs and jail cells haven’t made things better and have cost much more than the treatment and services that can….Addiction should not be a crime.”


• A constitutional amendment to provide the right to substance abuse treatment should also limit and more clearly define the ability of local ordinances to prevent treatment centers from opening up. The State clearly needs more treatment centers in residential areas, not the small number misguided zoning laws currently permit.

• The legalization of marijuana is progressing rapidly around the country. Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Washington and all permit recreational use.


Map from

• New York needs a whole new constitutional approach to how we treat drug use and addiction, emphasizing treatment rather than incarceration. As part of this new approach, we must pass a constitutional amendment to legalize the personal use and cultivation of marijuana.

What do you think?

• In the 2016 election, the legalization of marijuana was approved by referendum in California, Nevada and Massachusetts, and medical marijuana was approved in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota. Only Arizona defeated a marijuana legalization initiative.

• “A national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 67% of Americans say that the government should focus more on providing treatment for those who use illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine.” – Pew Research Center, “America’s New Drug Policy Landscape,” April 2, 2014.

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NY State Constitution does not address these issues

The State must be responsible for providing substance abuse programs for all New Yorkers in need.  This will save lives, and ultimately save the state millions of dollar per year.

Being convicted for drug use has profound negative effects not only on the addict beyond mere imprisonment.  As the Drug Policy Alliance has written:

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New York is one of nine states that constitutionally specifies a method for election administration. The others are Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia and Virginia.  Of these, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Vermont and West Virginia give this duty to an elected Secretary of State; in Texas a Secretary of State appointed by the Governor (with no legislative advice and consent) is responsible.

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6 Months Later, Legalizing Weed In Colorado Is A Huge Success,” by Daniel Wallis, Reuters, Jul. 3, 2014.

About Marijuana,” NORML.

Amendment 64 Use and Regulation of Marijuana.

An Analysis of Alternatives to New York City’s Current Marijuana Arrest and Detention Policy,” by Bruce D. Johnson, Andrew Golub, Eloise Dunlap, and Stephen J. Sifaneck, Policing. 2008; 31(2): 226–250.

A Brief History of Marijuana Law in America,” by Scott C. Martin, Time Magazine, April 20, 2016.

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Legal Marijuana is a Threat to Drug Smuggling in Arizona,” Astrid Galvan, Associated Press, October 11, 2016.

Marijuana arrests are on the rise in NYC—and 90% are people of color,” by Casey Tolan, Fusion,  August 8, 2016.

Marijuana Arrests Outnumber Those for Violent Crimes, Study Finds,” by Timothy Williamsoct, The New York Times, October 12, 2016.

Marijuana Lights Up State Ballots,” Editorial Board, The New York Times, October 19, 2016.

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NYC Marijuana Arrests Are Up By Nearly A Third Compared To Last Year,” by Nathan Tempey, Gothamist, August 9, 2016.

Obama Says Pot Should be Treated Like Cigarettes and Booze,” by Joe Vitale, The New York Post, November 30, 2016.

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Oregon Legalizes Recreational Marijuana! Here’s What That Means,” by Andy Campbell, The Huffington Post, July 1, 2015.

Poll: Support for legal pot gaining in New York,” by Erin Durkin, New York Daily News, February 17, 2014.

Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations – A Research-Based Guide,” National Institute for Drug Abuse, April, 2014.

The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers,” the Vera Institute, July 20, 2012.

Siting Drug and Alcohol Treatment Programs: Legal Challenges to the NIMBY Syndrome,” by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995.

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Support for Legal Marijuana Use Up to 60% in U.S.,” by Art Swift,

Why Not Pot?  A Review of the Brain-based Risks of Cannabis,” by Kai MacDonald, MD and Katherine Pappas, Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, April 1, 2016.