Entering the debate over NYPD stop-and-frisks, Governor Andrew Cuomo is proposing legislation that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view.
The Governor plans to meet with state lawmakers Monday, The New York Times reports, in an attempt to amend a state law that was the basis for the arrest of over 50,000 people in New York City last year, most of whom were black or Latino.
Under the current law, possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana shouldn’t result in arrest unless it’s “burning or in public view.” The NYPD, however, will often ask the hundreds of thousands they stop on the streets to empty their pockets, and when the marijuana comes out of the pocket, it becomes “in public view,” and they can make an arrest.
There are more arrests for low-level marijuana offenses than any other crime in New York City. According to the Associated Press, marijuana arrests in New York account for one out of every seven cases in the city’s criminal courts. In 2010, the city spent $75 million to put pot-smokers behind bars.
In September, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued a memo, telling city cops, “A crime will not be charged to an individual who is requested or compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marijuana.” The Times reports, however, that the effect of Kelly’s order on the number of marijuana arrests has been minimal.
“This proposal will bring long overdue consistency and fairness to New York State’s Penal Law and save thousands of New Yorkers, particularly minority youth, from the unnecessary and life-altering trauma of a criminal arrest, and, in some cases, prosecution,” a Cuomo official told The Times.
Mayor Bloomberg disagrees with Cuomo’s position on marijuana arrests. The Mayor’s argued before that the arrests deter other, more serious crimes.
UPDATE: Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come out in support of Governor Cuomo’s plan. Bloomberg said Cuomo’s plan “strikes the right balance,” by allowing cops to still arrest those who are smoking in public. “We look forward to working with legislative leaders to help pass a bill before the end of session,” the mayor said in a statement. Ray Kelly will attend Cuomo’s press conference Monday in a show of support of the bill.