A father of four from New York City recently came to us for help. Rafael Urena, a certified medical cannabis patient, was arrested for possession of cannabis. As a person of color, he is another victim of racial bias by law enforcement. If convicted, Rafael faces multiple years in prison. As the sole provider for his family, his children will face extreme financial and emotional hardships. Help us fight for Rafael! We are asking for $25,000 to help cover his legal fees.
In August, Rafael was pulled over. The officer claimed he drove over the hazard line. When he approached Rafael’s vehicle, he claimed that it smelled like cologne. He then saw Rafael’s vape, so Rafael gave him his medical marijuana card and drivers license. When the officer returned, he had his hand on his gun and told Rafael to get out of the car. He began searching the car. The officer later claimed that Rafael gave him permission, which he did not. Rafael remained silent because he was fearful for his life – this was during the height of the riots and racial tension between people of color and law enforcement. Rafael feared he would become another statistic.
Rafael cooks large quantities of cannabis to make his daily oil. He uses up to an ounce per day for his regimen which is why he had 2 lbs of cannabis with him. This is a one-month supply for Rafael. Rafael uses medical cannabis to help with gastro-intestinal issues that make eating difficult. He also suffers from anxiety and insomnia, which are greatly helped by cannabis. It allows him to think clearly and be in the present moment so he can focus on his work as a barber and musician, as well as care for his four children. Rafael’s biggest fear of being sent to prison is what it will do to his children, ages 7, 12, 13 and 16. His family will be ripped apart and his children will lose the father that they love.
In late 2019, New York City decriminalized low level cannabis possession. Mayor DeBlasio is quoted saying “For too long communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana and have suffered the lifelong consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction”. But in the first three quarters of 2020, while overall arrests and summons in New York City have decreased by 42%, the percent of the total arrests and summons that are of Black and Hispanics has increased from 90% to 93%.
Rafael is now facing charges of a Class D Felony of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree. A public defender was assigned to Rafael and the local DA offered him 2 and ½ years in prison. Because Rafael was on probation when he was arrested, this can lead to up to 7-15 years in prison.
Private attorneys assured Rafael that he could be kept out of prison, but it would cost him between $16,000 and $35,000 to defend himself. The “pay to play” injustice of our system has never been clearer. Defendants able to afford private attorneys can stay out of prison, while someone like Rafael must take whatever the DA decides.
Don’t let Rafael and his children become another victim of racial bias! Help support his legal fight.