By Matthew Chayes
Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed the legalization of recreational marijuana Thursday and urged the state to automatically expunge marijuana-related convictions from the past, help "diverse participants" get into the legal pot industry and let New York City tax sales.
On the eve of the announcement, de Blasio's administration issued a 71-page report by the Mayor's Task Force on Cannabis Legalization, making the case for marijuana legalization and the possibility for home delivery, but calling for smoking pot in public to remain illegal.
"The time has come to rewrite the rules, to break the mold of the past, to repair and redeem the lives of people who are treated unjustly," de Blasio said at a news conference in Upper Manhattan with his wife, Chirlane McCray, and members of the task force.
Ten states and Washington, D.C., have made recreational marijuana legal in recent years, starting in 2012 with Colorado and Washington state. None of those entities permit public consumption, according to Liz Glazer, who heads de Blasio's office of criminal justice.
The city panel's report recommends limiting the purchase and possession of marijuana to those who are at least 21, setting restrictions similar to those for alcohol, and imposing, "to the greatest extent possible," civil, rather than criminal, penalties for violations of the new rules.
Failure to pay a civil summons for marijuana smoking in public would eventually subject the violator to arrest, Glazer said.
Suspicion of public consumption could still, as now, allow a police officer to stop, detain and question the person.
De Blasio said legalization "will lead to a series of changes" toward drug testing of city employees. There would be exceptions for police officers and other workers for whom testing is required by federal law, Glazer said.
In the past, de Blasio has opposed legalizing marijuana, saying in April, "I'm not there yet," an explanation he had long offered. McCray, however, favors legalization.
"Who says men don't listen," she said at the news conference.
On Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he would push to legalize recreational marijuana as part of next year's state legislative agenda. His proposal represents an about-face on the question of legalization. Last year, Cuomo called marijuana a "gateway drug" to harder substances.
De Blasio said he wants a local cannabis industry because, "tragically, we know what happens when corporations run the show."
The panel recommends helping "communities disproportionately affected by past criminalization have an equitable stake" in a future cannabis industry, including preferential licensing and special job opportunities.
In New York City, minorities are 89 percent of those who have been arrested, even though whites use at the same level as other ethnic groups, Glazer said.
As a result, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) said, the nascent industry should be "controlled" by blacks and Latinos.