ITHACA, N.Y. — At a panel discussion at Cinemapolis in February, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick was asked about his views on U.S. drug policy.

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“We don’t send drug users to prison,” Myrick said. “We send poor people who use drugs to prison.”

Myrick has long been an outspoken critic of the “War on Drugs” and says he favors the decriminalization of all drugs. Legalizing drugs, Myrick argues, would help poor Americans by cutting into a black market that fuels violence.

On Friday, Myrick attended a press conference held by the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office. There, Sheriff Ken Lansing announced that 33 people had been identified as suspects in a months-long special drug operation.

Mayor Myrick

In a Facebook post, Myrick called the arrests “great news.” He said in an interview with the Ithaca Voice on Friday that there’s no conflict between his criticism of the national War on Drugs and his praise for the work of local law enforcement in arresting drug dealers.

“As long as the drug war is going at the national level, we can’t ignore it,” he said. “We can’t stop arresting drug dealers just because we think a world in which drugs are regulated and not sold on the underground market would be better.”

More than 20 people have been arrested in connection with the operation, which began in July 2014. Those arrests spanned from burglary charges to a murder warrant to low-level drug charges.

Myrick said the arrests “will undoubtedly make our streets safer,” but that they won’t solve every problem.

There’s no cognitive dissonance, the mayor says, between the point of view that the arrests will make Ithaca safer and the one he offered in an interview with the Marijuana Majority: “Despite having arrested over 20 million people for marijuana nationally … marijuana prohibition has failed to make our communities safer.”

The mayor has organized a task-force of municipal leaders to tackle the local drug problem. (Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson is involved in the effort; the task-force’s plans have not been publicized, but are expected to be released soon.)

“A new direction for drug policy in Ithaca is desperately needed,” Myrick said at the time.

The decriminalization of drugs on the local level, however, will not be on the table. Myrick says that doing so would turn Ithaca into a dangerous tourist destination for drug users — and that, though he believes the national laws should change, it would be counter-productive for Ithaca to go it alone.

Given that reality, he says, local officials have to ensure that law enforcement break up the criminal networks that exist.

“I think we ask the officers to do this and to enforce the laws on the books and take great personal risk,” he said. “And when they do, we thank them.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.