New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been rumored to be eying a presidential run for the Democratic nomination in 2016, so it is somewhat surprising, and telling, that he is willing to stand up for the rights of the poor on a couple of controversial topics. Governor Cuomo has told the New York Legislature that they won’t get a pay raise unless they decriminalize personal cannabis possession in “public view” and raise the state’s minimum wage.
Although New York decriminalized simple possession of cannabis in the 1970s, a draconian loophole in the law, made possession in “public view” a misdemeanor subject to arrest. Of course, this “public view” loophole led to a disproportionate number of arrests of the poor and minorities. Oftentimes, law enforcement officers will stop and frisk citizens on the street and feel marijuana in their pockets. Once the marijuana was pulled out, then it would then be deemed in “public view” subjecting the citizen to arrest although the same amount of cannabis would only warrant a ticket if enjoyed in the privacy of one’s own home.
From The Village Voice:
New York State legislators want a pay raise for the first time since 1999. Governor Andrew Cuomo wants young minorities to stop getting screwed by New York’s bizarre “public view” marijuana law, and the NYPD’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy — and the governor made it clear yesterday that lawmakers won’t get a pay bump until they get to work on decriminalizing “public view” marijuana.
“I would not even consider — even consider a pay raise — unless the people’s business was being done in a thorough, responsible way,” Cuomo told reporters yesterday.
“The people’s business” also includes a raise in the minimum wage, which currently is $7.25 an hour. Cuomo wants it raised to $8.50.
According to The Village Voice, over 50,000 people are arrested in New York every year under the “public view” loophole, with a whopping 87% of those arrests inflicted upon people of color. Those that follow the Drug War certainly aren’t surprised that the laws are used to disproportionately target young African Americans and Hispanics and know that arrests, fines and permanent records severely impact the livelihood of the poor.
During a time when politics are dominated by corporate special interests and Super PACs that do the bidding of the super-rich, it is great to see a politician with presidential aspirations standing up for the rights of the poor and minorities. It may be a bit early, but if Governor Cuomo manages to pull off this legislative achievement, that I may be one of the first to sport a “Cuomo 2016″ sign.
A special thanks goes out to a former law school classmate, Jamal C. Wright, who lives in New York City, for giving me the heads up on this story. You can check out Jamal’s political blog at www.GreatBlogJam.com