On April 20, an informational and celebratory event titled “Smoke Weed in Front of the Police Station” was hosted in front of the Binghamton Police Station at 38 Hawley Street by local organizations, following the legalization of recreational use of marijuana in New York.
The event was hosted by Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT), Truth Pharm, 100 Black Men of Broome County, North Side Mutual Aid, Divestment, Accountability, Reinvestment in Our Community (DAROC) Broome County, Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST) and Citizen Action of New York. The event aimed to celebrate the legalization of marijuana in New York state and serve as an informational session regarding the implications of the new legislation for New York residents.
On March 31, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana at all locations where tobacco can be smoked. The new legislation legally permits recreational marijuana usage and creates an automatic expungement of previous marijuana convictions. This means that any person with a marijuana charge on their record that is now legal under the new legislation can have it removed entirely.
The organizers discussed how this legislation will impact people of color with regards to racial injustice in the local and state police departments. Roughly 300 people attended the event on Hawley Street, including students and community members.
According to Khamesi Black, a community organizer with Truth Pharm, this event was intended to bring the community together, celebrate the legalization of marijuana and remind people that the fight for racial justice is far from over.
Black noted that police brutality and murder targeting Black and brown people is still an issue that needs attention. Black cited the recent deaths of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy who was killed by the Chicago Police Department in late March, and Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was killed last week by a Minnesota police officer.
On the same day as the event, Derek Chauvin, the police officer responsible for George Floyd’s death in 2020, was found guilty of all three charges he faced, including second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
“There’s still no justice out here,” Black said, “We had Adam Toledo, 13 years old. We have Daunte Wright, less than 10 miles away from where Chauvin’s trial was happening.”
Additionally, Truth Pharm aims to destigmatize drug use and advocates for harm reduction programs.
“What we’re finding with opioid users, and people who inject even, is that cannabis can be a very healthy alternative as they transition into that [recovery] lifestyle,” Black said.
Alexis Pleus, executive director of Truth Pharm, added that she hopes this event will help people continue to fight against the stigma that often comes with marijuana use.
“We’re just really excited to liberate this process,” Pleus said, “We know that a lot of people smoke, and now they can do it legally. We’re hoping by having this event we are reducing the stigma of substance use.”
Dominic Micalizzi, a local community advocate and a sophomore majoring in social work, noted that the legalization of marijuana will likely prove to be a positive piece of legislation, especially for minority communities.
“I don’t really even smoke weed, but I’m so happy to be here because now cops cannot use weed as probable cause to continue to police and imprison Black and brown people,” Micalizzi said.
According to Salka Valerio, one of the organizers of the event, it takes a community to get results.
“When they fuck with us, we’ve got to apply pressure back,” Valerio said. “And it takes community to do that. Because I can’t go and do that by myself, I can’t go and show up with three people, we’ve got to show up with an army, every time something happens. Because that’s how we get victory, that’s how we get justice and that’s how we keep our peace.”