As New York City continues to grapple with a justice system that disproportionately punishes people of color for marijuana-related crimes, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has told the NYPD to stop arresting people for smoking marijuana in public. A source at City Hall told CNN that de Blasio made the request over the weekend, as his administration continues to look for ways to improve how the city polices marijuana-related drug charges.
The change means that anyone caught toking up in public would be issued a summons, rather than being arrested on the spot, fingerprinted, and given a court date.
The changes are expected to go into effect at the end of the summer. Summons or not, it’s unknown if the change would deter police officers from searching people on the suspicion that they possess marijuana.
Is Marijuana Actually Illegal in NYC?
Kind of. Right now, marijuana is in a something of a legal limbo in the state of New York. Possession has been decriminalized. While it’s not legal to possess pot, small amounts are considered a violation and not a crime. Medical marijuana is legal for those with qualifying conditions, but only in non-smokable forms.
That could change. As more and more states have moved to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, NY’s own Senator Chuck Schumer recently threw his weight behind a federal bill that would decriminalize marijuana use.
Preparing for the Inevitable
Perhaps eyeing this nation-wide trend, de Blasio’s new initiative also follows an investigation by the New York Times, published May 13, that showed how heavy-handed marijuana charges have disproportionately affected people of color across the city. According to data gathered by The Times, over the past three years, black people were arrested on low-level charges for marijuana eight times more often than white people. Specifically in Manhattan, black people were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people.
Last week, Mayor de Blasio announced that the NYPD has formed a working group that will present recommendations on changing marijuana enforcement tactics within 30 days. According to the New York Daily News on Monday, de Blasio is also putting together a task force to get ready for full legalization. It will be tasked with providing recommendations on issues like public education campaigns about marijuana use, how police will interact with public smokers, and zoning for dispensaries.