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November 11, 2014

New York City mayor announces new policy concerning marijuana enforcement

ImagesAs reported in this New York Times article, headlined "Concerns in Criminal Justice System as New York City Eases Marijuana Policy," the NYC's new mayor and old sherrif are bringing a new approach to marijuana enforcement to the Big Apple. Here are the basics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office promising to reform the Police Department and repair relations with black and Latino communities, on Monday unveiled his plan to change the way the police enforce the law on marijuana possession.

Arrests for low-level marijuana possession have had an especially harsh impact on minority communities, and under the change announced on Monday, people found with small amounts of marijuana will typically be given a ticket and cited for a violation instead of being arrested and charged with a crime.

The news, outlined by the mayor and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, at Police Headquarters, marked the most significant criminal justice policy initiative by Mr. de Blasio since he was sworn in as mayor in January. While he stressed that he was not advocating the decriminalization of marijuana, Mr. de Blasio said the impact of enforcement on the people arrested and on the Police Department compelled him to rethink how the police handle low-level marijuana arrests.

“When an individual is arrested,” he said, “even for the smallest possession of marijuana, it hurts their chances to get a good job; it hurts their chances to get housing; it hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan. It can literally follow them for the rest of their lives and saddle young people with challenges that, for many, are very difficult to overcome.”

For a Police Department that has devoted enormous resources to tens of thousands of marijuana arrests a year, the shift in strategy should, the mayor said, allow officers to focus on more serious types of crime by freeing up people who would otherwise be occupied by the administrative tasks lashed to minor marijuana arrests.

But the change, detailed in a five-page Police Department “operations order” that is set to go into effect on Nov. 19, immediately raised questions and concerns in many corners of the criminal justice system. It directs officers who encounter people with 25 grams or less of marijuana, in public view, to issue a noncriminal violation in most instances, rather than arrest them for a misdemeanor....

As they headed into a meeting with departmental leaders to hear about the new policy, some police union leaders said the changes seemed to run counter to the “broken windows” strategy of policing, long championed by Mr. Bratton as a way to prevent serious crime by cracking down on low-level offenses. “I just see it as another step in giving the streets back to the criminals,” said Michael J. Palladino, the head of the city’s Detectives’ Endowment Association, the union representing police detectives. “And we keep inching closer and closer to that.”...

At the news conference, Mr. Bratton said officers would still have to use discretion. If marijuana was being burned or smoked, an arrest would be made, he said. If offenders had an “active warrant,” or were wanted, or could not produce proper identification, they would be taken to the station house, he said. Officials said violations would not constitute a criminal record. They said court appearances, within weeks of the violation, could lead to a fine of up to $100 for a first offense....

Critics have said the police and prosecutors have been improperly charging people with possession of marijuana in public view, often after officers ask them to empty their pockets during street stops.

In 2011, Raymond W. Kelly, then the police commissioner, issued an order reminding officers to refrain from such arrest practices. Mr. Bratton said such practices were not now in use and the problem had been fixed. By now, the number of marijuana arrests has decreased, roughly mirroring the drastic reduction in the frequency of police stop, question and frisk encounters.

Of the 394,539 arrests made last year, marijuana arrests totaled slightly more than 28,000, or a little less than 10 percent of all arrests made in the city. That is down from 50,000 a few years ago.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

November 11, 2014 at 10:43 AM | Permalink


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Mr. de Blasio's recognition of the cyclical impact that minor marijuana possession arrests and decision to re-focus police efforts on more serious offenses is a much-needed step in the right direction for New York and I hope other states will follow suit.

Earlier this year, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin addressed the heroin epidemic in Vermont and recognized that a "war on drugs" is not the answer. Recognizing the heroin addiction is a public health crisis, Shumlin successfully encouraged legislatures to pass a new set of drug policies that give people caught using or in possession of heroin the chance to avoid prosecution by enrolling in treatment. Addicts, including some prisoners, will have greater access to synthetic heroin substitutes to help them reduce their dependency on illegal narcotics or kick the habit. A good Samaritan law will shield heroin users from arrest when they call an ambulance to help someone who’s overdosed. [Source: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-21/vermont-quits-war-on-drugs-to-treat-heroin-abuse-as-health-issue]

I think both of these recent efforts are notable in addressing the failure of the United States's "war on drugs" and the detrimental impact it has had on the lives of many low level drug posession offenders.

Posted by: HBC | Nov 11, 2014 2:30:45 PM

I appreciate this move though merely catching someone let's say on an isolated portion of a park or something even smoking pot shouldn't necessarily be a mandatory reason for arrest. Also, $100 can be a lot for a first offense for various people.

I also understand the id point, though going to the station etc. would be a sort of penalty. I guess though if you are going to have pot on you, common sense would be to have id. We aren't talking id for voters here.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 11, 2014 5:08:04 PM

This is just a modest start for New York. Here in Kentucky, possession of up to 8 ounces of marijuana is a citation-only offense, which does not lead to arrest. 45%5 of all annual drug arrests in America are just for marijuana (about 850,000 arrests per year). Think how many fewer cops, deputy sheriffs, jailers and prison wardens America will need when possession of marijuana is decriminalized across the country.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Nov 12, 2014 12:09:20 PM

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