Press Statements

‘No Thanks to Cuomo’ #Marijuanajustice Becomes Legal in New York After Decades-Long Fight by Activists and Community Leaders

March 31, 2021

For immediate release

March 31, 2021

Contact: Jawanza Williams,, 917-488-4961

‘No Thanks to Cuomo’ #Marijuanajustice Becomes Legal in New York After Decades-long Fight by Activists and Community Leaders

Gov. Cuomo Signed the Legislation Wednesday Morning, in an Attempt to Distract From Personal Scandals and Calls for Resignation

Activists Rallied Outside the Capitol Building Wednesday Afternoon, Slamming Gov. Cuomo for his Revisionist History a Using the New Law as a Shield

ALBANY, N.Y. — Following the signing of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) earlier today, VOCAL-NY members and activists celebrated the landmark legislation rooted in racial and economic justice, while denouncing Gov. Cuomo for attempting to steal credit for the policy. 

“Make no mistake, this law is a result of years of tireless work by advocates and those who are  impacted by prohibition and the  drug war. Not an ounce of recognition is owed to the Governor and his last ditch effort to distract from calls for his resignation,” said Jawanza Williams, VOCAL-NY Director of Organizing. “Governor Cuomo has repeatedly blocked this bill because he didn’t want to invest revenue in Black and Brown communities, all while Black and Brown New Yorkers were victimized  by racist policing. We must give credit where credit is due, and that belongs solely to the grassroots advocates and legislatures who pushed to see the strongest version of this bill get across the finish line.”

“The Governor’s proposal for legalizing cannabis was more punitive than existing law — increasing penalties for acts like driving under the influence, allowing police to commence searches based on odor, and imposing harsh fines for illicit marijuana — even while 94% of NYPD’s cannabis related arrests are of Black and brown people,” said Assembly Member Zohran K. Mamdani. “Today, our historic step in addressing the wrongs done by our failed war on drugs is thanks to advocates, organizers, and champions of MRTA — not the Governor.”

“Under the CRTA proposed by the Governor, no one in my community who was hurt by criminalization of pot would have benefited with a business that could grow,” said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. “He wanted to take all the funds into the general fund and not give it back to communities of color negatively impacted for decades by this racist law. We are proud to pass a version that is close to our original version of MRTA and believe we have a shot at rolling back on decades of injustice.” 

“How many times over the course of this centuries-long fight for racial justice have we seen our demands distorted by white men in power to suit their own political needs? Governor Cuomo promotes policies that purport to meet our demands, and actually undermine everything we are trying to accomplish. Well not this time,” said Senator Jabari Brisport. “This time, the people and movement for racial justice prevailed. But we cannot stop here. At this very moment, while the Governor is pretending he has done us a favor, he is attempting to make cuts to the One-House Budget Resolutions that would be devastating to Black and Brown communities. For a just and equitable New York, we must Tax the Rich, end policing and incarceration, end the war on drugs and decriminalize all simple drug possession. We must finally invest in the services and infrastructures that truly enable healing and well-being in our communities.”


VOCAL-NY began partnering with our allies at the Drug Policy Alliance in 2010 to expose the marijuana arrest crisis in New York City. Michael Bloomberg was Mayor, and his illegal & racist stop-and-frisk policy accelerated marijuana arrests to record-highs. Decriminalization stalled for years as Senate Republicans and Governor Cuomo refused to move it forward — but VOCAL-NY’s campaign raised marijuana as a key racial justice issue and won local commitments to reduce arrests in NYC.

The new legislation will:

  • Eliminate all penalties for possession of marijuana under three ounces.

  • Direct 40% of tax revenue to low-income communities most harmed by marijuana arrests.

  • Provide grants, loans, and programs to support access to the marijuana business for individuals from impacted communities.

  • Automatically expunge past convictions that are no longer crimes.

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