NYC Mayor To Police: Stop Arresting People For Smoking Pot

By Kelly Burch 05/23/18

One police official says the policy change could put officers in a difficult position, where they’re being told not to enforce a law that is still on the books. 


New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has instructed the New York Police Department to stop arresting people for smoking marijuana. 

CNN reported on Monday that de Blasio asked the police department to issue court summonses instead. Under current police, people found smoking marijuana are arrested, fingerprinted and ordered to appear in court.

Using a court summons instead would mean people are not arrested or fingerprinted, although they still need to go to court. Each year, the NYPD arrests more than 17,500 people for smoking or possessing small amounts of cannabis.

Eighty-seven percent of people arrested for smoking in public were black or Hispanic, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"The dual mission of the Manhattan DA's office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said last week. "The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals."

Last week Vance announced that he would not prosecute people for smoking marijuana after August 1. 

“These arrests waste an enormous amount of criminal justice resources for no punitive, rehabilitative, deterrent or other public safety benefit. And they do so in a racially disparate way that stigmatizes and disadvantages the arrestees,” according to a report released by Vance. 

Also last week, de Blasio called on the NYPD to review its marijuana enforcement policy over the next month. However, this week’s news suggests that de Blasio wants arrests to stop before then. 

The NYPD appeared open to the change. 

"The working group is reviewing possession and public smoking of marijuana to ensure enforcement is consistent with the values of fairness and trust, while also promoting public safety and addressing community concerns,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Phil Walzak. 

However, Sgt. Ed Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said that the policy change could put officers in a difficult position, where they’re being told not to enforce a law that is still on the books. 

“You can’t just circumvent the law,” Mullins told The Wall Street Journal. “If you want to not have enforcement of arrests, then you need to change the law.”

The NYPD has decreased the number of marijuana-related arrests by 32% in four years, but too many people are still being prosecuted for a very minor crime, some say. 

“It is a waste of our public safety resources to arrest people for marijuana,” Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director at the Drug Policy Alliance, told The New York Times last week. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.