Legalization advocates say furor over Tessa Majors murder bolsters case for marijuana reform

By | December 19, 2019

Advocates for marijuana policy reform say a police union leader’s allegation that college freshman Tessa Majors was buying marijuana when she was murdered illustrates the case for legalizing the drug.

After Barnard College freshman Majors, 18, was fatally stabbed last week while walking in Morningside Park in upper Manhattan, Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins said on a radio show that she was “in the park to buy marijuana” when she was killed. Investigators in the New York Police Department have not said that was the case.

Drug policy reform advocates say that, if it were true that Majors was killed in the act of buying drugs illegally, it demonstrates that legalizing marijuana would help reduce crime.

“What actually happens, in reality, is that decriminalizing marijuana frees up police resources to better focus on tragic crimes such as this one,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Reforming further to legalize and regulate marijuana removes it from the black market and has been shown to be associated with decreases in other crime rates.”

Drug policy reform advocates also said that whether or not Majors was purchasing marijuana doesn’t matter.

“Even if it was the case, how is that relevant? Do you investigate the homicide of a dealer any differently than anyone else, knowing they may have been committing a criminal act? No. A murder is a murder,” said Maj. Mike Hilliard, a retired Baltimore police officer and member of the criminal justice reform-focused Law Enforcement Action Group, which advocates for mending relationships between police and communities that have suffered police brutality.

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“If she was there to buy marijuana, if we had a situation that [marijuana] was legalized, regulated and controlled, she wouldn’t be put in that situation,” Hilliard told the Washington Examiner. “What really needs to occur is we need to quit concentrating on criminalizing it and [treat] it as a public health problem.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill four months ago to decriminalize marijuana throughout the state. In addition, the law expunges the records of many New Yorkers with past marijuana possession convictions and reduces the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“By providing individuals who have suffered the consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction with a path to have their records expunged and by reducing draconian penalties, we are taking a critical step forward in addressing a broken and discriminatory criminal justice process,” Cuomo said.

Decriminalization, though, is not the same as legalization. While legalization means abolishing all laws banning possession and the personal use of marijuana, decriminalization only loosens penalties for possessing small amounts of the drug and for using the drug in public. If police in New York were to catch someone using marijuana in a public place, the person would face civil fines rather than criminal charges.

“If what the police have said is true, it is further evidence that a legalized market could have prevented an unsafe situation,” said David from Pennsylvania, a marijuana user who wished to withhold his last name. “The police need to be more focused on patrolling these rough areas, not simply crafting a story to portray her death for the media.”

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Mullins’s words have sparked ire from Barnard College’s faculty and students, Majors’s family, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who tweeted: “We don’t shame victims in this city.”

Mullins denied claims this week that he was blaming Majors for putting herself in a dangerous situation leading up to her murder and said that Majors’s peers and family had misunderstood him.

“Mayor de Blasio and other critics have taken and twisted the words,” Mullins said Monday. “As I thought was clear and obvious, in no way did I intend to suggest on any level that some type of blame toward Tessa Majors was warranted.”

The NYPD released details of the case on Monday, saying Majors was stabbed while being robbed by three teens in the park. When the suspects fled, Majors stumbled out of the park to the Columbia University campus where a guard saw her and called 911. Majors died shortly after arriving at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospital.

One of the three suspects, a 13-year-old boy, said he and two friends were in the park to rob people. Police have a second suspect in custody, but the third suspect has not been apprehended.