New York City shifts plan for marijuana offenses
NEW YORK — Thousands of people carrying small amounts of marijuana may no longer be arrested or face criminal charges, city officials announced Monday, marking a significant shift in how the nation’s biggest city approaches policing pot.
Instead of being arrested on misdemeanor charges that carry potential punishments of up to three months in jail, many people will get court summonses and face non-criminal violations punishable by fines starting at $100, Mayor Bill de Blasio and police Commissioner William Bratton said.
While state law makes it a misdemeanor to have up to 25 grams — about a sandwich bag — of marijuana in “public view,” the mayor characterized stopping such arrests as an enforcement choice. He said it would give police officers time to pursue more serious crime and spare people from the consequences of arrest records for cases that often end up getting dismissed.
It’s “a smart policy that keeps New Yorkers safe, but it is also a more fair policy,” said de Blasio, a first-term Democrat who’s faced pressure to keep campaign promises to reduce the more than 20,000 such arrests per year.
The announcement was made a week after voters in Washington, D.C., and in Oregon and Alaska approved measures legalizing marijuana, joining Colorado and Washington states. De Blasio and Bratton oppose legalizing the drug.
City lawmakers, district attorneys and civil rights advocates including the Rev. Al Sharpton hailed the change. But the city’s biggest police union said it could tie officers’ hands.
“We do not want police officers left holding the bag if crime rises because of poor policy,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said. “Writing a summons to someone who does not respect the law can result in a volatile situation.”
Under a 1977 state law, it’s only a violation to have up to 25 grams of marijuana in a pocket or bag, but the offense rises to a misdemeanor if the pot is being smoked or is “open to public view.”
Under the new policy, set to take effect Nov. 19, people caught smoking will still be arrested, as will people with open warrants or no identification.