NYC Will No Longer Make Arrests For Low-Level Pot Possession

By McCarton Ackerman 11/12/14

Though technically still illegal, marijuana possession will now finally be treated as a minor crime.

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made a bold move on Monday by announcing that city police officers should stop arresting people for small amounts of pot and instead give them a summons, which is similar to a ticket.

The change, announced by de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, will go into effect on Nov. 19. First-time offenders will have their marijuana confiscated and “may be eligible” to receive a court summons that will require them to pay a $100 fine. A second offense will warrant a $200 fine, but the offender would still be able to walk away at the scene of the incident. The goal of the new policy is to not have people hindered in receiving a job or housing for the rest of their lives over a relatively minor offense.

The new change only applies to those carrying less than 25 grams of marijuana. Anyone caught smoking or burning cannabis is still subject to arrest, as well as anyone who can’t produce proper identification or has an active warrant out for their arrest.

Both De Blasio and Bratton are against legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but the former said he would be open to reviewing how successful the practice has been in places where it is legal. “Don’t smoke it. Don’t carry it. Don’t use it. It’s still against the law," said Bratton at a press conference on Monday. "I’m not giving out get-out-of-jail-for-free cards.”

As many as 50,000 people per year were arrested for marijuana possession each year in New York City during the tenure of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That number dropped to 28,000 last year and is on track to be about the same in 2014. However, African Americans and Latinos have been disproportionately arrested for pot possession, with about 85% of those arrests between January and July of this year coming from those two racial groups.

Many believe this change in pot policing makes it only a matter of time before marijuana is legalized for recreational use in New York. The state could legalize it as early as next year after State Sen. Liz Kreuger (D) announced plans to reintroduce the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act at the next legislative session in January. This would allow for the opening of retail marijuana dispensaries and establish an excise tax on all pot sales. Adults could also legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana and have six marijuana plants.

Because New York is not a referendum state, the law would immediately go into effect and not require a vote from New Yorkers if it makes it through the legislature.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.