In New York City, Marijuana May Mean Ticket, Not Arrest
In New York, the debate over marijuana arrests has been less about drug decriminalization than it has been about the aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics that came to define the Police Department’s crime-fighting strategies. During the Bloomberg administration, the police arrested as many as 50,000 people a year on minor marijuana charges, meaning that some years, approximately one in eight arrests made by the police was for marijuana. In some cases, arrests were made after officers stopped people under dubious circumstances and instructed them to remove any contraband from their pockets.
In 1977, the Legislature in New York moved to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana that were not in public view. That meant that carrying a small bag of marijuana hidden in a pocket was supposed to be a ticket-eligible violation that did not amount to a crime. But since the mid-1990s, the police have routinely arrested people they found with marijuana and charged them with a misdemeanor, even though it was only supposed to apply to marijuana that was burning or discovered in “public view.” In 2011, the police commissioner at the time, Raymond W. Kelly, issued an unusual order reminding officers that the misdemeanor was not the appropriate charge in many cases.
This is one thing that many never got as to how the stop and frisk policy was abused with destructive results. Police stop someone, tell them to empty their pockets, and voila - their marijuana is now in public view. No longer a ticket, as it was supposed to be since 1977 (37 years ago, mind you) but now you are under arrest. If the law was enforced as it should have been all these years, maybe now there could be movement toward true legalization. Now it just a baby step that was supposed to have been taken almost four decades ago.