The racially biased marijuana arrests associated with the stop-and-frisk policy of the NYPD have made international headlines over the last six months as politicians and activists have placed the issue in the public eye.
A major component of stop-and-frisk is the ability of an officer to arrest someone they’ve stopped for marijuana possession even if the suspect was initially stopped for something entirely unrelated (if there was a legitimate reason at all). The problem is that, while marijuana possession is decriminalized in New York State, possession of marijuana in public view is an offense for which one can be arrested. Thus, a loophole in the law allows officers to arrest a suspect for pot in public after demanding a suspect empty their pockets or forcibly removing the contents. If pot is present and brought into public view at the request of the officer, the suspect is then guilty of possessing marijuana in public view.
The result of this policy is staggering. Low-level marijuana possession arrests have been rampant in New York City. 50,684 such arrests were made in 2011 – more than any other offense. And, according to Professor Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College, from 2002 to 2011 NYC recorded 400,000 low-level marijuana arrests – primarily of young black and Hispanic men with no prior criminal convictions (all under Mayor Bloomberg’s watch). That’s more low-level marijuana arrests than any other city in the United States.
While efforts to end stop-and-frisk have been met with resistance from the mayor’s administration, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to ask for a change in the law that could result in far fewer people being arrested for pot possession due to stop-and-frisk.
Gov Cuomo is calling for the decriminalization of small amounts of pot in public view – the central offense leading to stop-and-frisk arrests.
In September, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly directed cops to stop arresting those discovered with small amounts of pot on their person which were made “public view” when suspects were forced to empty their pockets. Nonetheless, the Drug Policy Alliance found only a “modest decline” in arrests as a result of this directive.
Gov Cuomo’s proposal wouldn’t end stop-and-frisk, but it would removes the primary offense leading to the large number of arrests. And unlike the directive issued previously, the change in law would take the ability to arrest people for pot in public view out of cops’ hands.
“For individuals who have any kind of a record, even a minuscule one, the obstacles are enormous to employment and to education,” said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “When it’s really a huge number of kids in the community who go through this, and all have the same story, the impact is just devastating.”
Mayor Bloomberg previously opposed ending the arrests and insisted that such arrests help prevent other crimes by detering drug dealing and violence. This defense is similar to his administration’s defense of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy. However, as Gov Cuomo’s position was made public Sunday, Mayor Bloomberg announced Monday that he supports the governor’s proposal. In fact, Commissioner Kelly will attend the governor’s new conference today in Albany to show support.
Cuomo will announce his support for the change in the pot in public view law with hopes of pushing it through the legislative session which ends June 21.
The Cuomo administration’s position is clear: “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.” Additionally, the policy change would save “countless man-hours wasted … for what is clearly only a minor offense.”
More @ www.nytimes.com