The NYPD will stop arresting tens of thousands of New Yorkers for misdemeanor marijuana possession, and will instead issue summonses to those holding 25 grams or less of the plant. The summonses will carry a $100 fine for a first offense, and will be handled much like a ticket for loitering or speeding.
"The summons is not going to be part of your rap sheet, so it's not going to stay with you," Susan Herman, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for collaborative policing, told reporters yesterday. Those given summonses for marijuana possession will not be fingerprinted or photographed, but they will need to show police valid ID to prevent being taken into custody.
Many young people, who make up the majority of those arrested for minor pot possession, don't carry ID.
"It is crucial for all New Yorkers to carry ID, particularly our young people," Mayor de Blasio said as he announced the new policy at 1 Police Plaza yesterday.
The policy will go into effect on November 19th. New Yorkers can also expect to be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for small amounts of marijuana if they are selling it, smoking it in public, or if they have an outstanding warrant. If you're part of a group smoking a joint, police can arrest the entire group. If a police officer smells burnt marijuana and finds unlit marijuana, you can also be subject to arrest.
"I think the fact that you will see fewer unnecessary arrests will be good for New York City as a whole; it will certainly be good for New Yorkers of color, particularly young people of color, there's no question about that," the mayor said. "Someone being told, 'You broke the law, there's a consequence, do what it says on this piece of paper, show up when you're supposed to, pay your debt,' is gonna feel a lot better about the reality than someone having to be taken into the precinct."
If yesterday's announcement that the NYPD would finally begin enforcing the law that has been on the books since 1977 was a progressive measure, the press conference still felt like a middle school D.A.R.E. meeting.
At one point, Commissioner Bratton segued from answering a reporter's question to hoist a bag filled with oregano to illustrate what 25 grams of marijuana would look like, and was immediately blinded by flashbulbs.
"The number of joints, if you will, that can be made from that amount varies significantly from the amount they put in each joint," Bratton said. "All I can think of right now is pizza because I usually like oregano on my pizza."
Asked whether the summonses would just be given out in a similar amount to a similarly racially skewed demographic, Bratton replied, "One of the ways to avoid a summons is, don't do it. It's that simple. Don't smoke it. Don't carry it. Don't use it. I'm not giving 'get out of jail free' cards. If you wanna do that go to the legislature and see if they wanna change it."
Because the Commissioner and the Mayor do not.
"I am not in favor of legalization under any circumstance," Bratton said.
"I agree with the Commissioner," the Mayor added, citing "what marijuana can lead to in a young person's life" as his reason for advising against legalization. "We at least have objective fact—two states will proceed over the next few years and we will learn from that and that will help us determine the future," de Blasio said. In fact, five states and DC have legalized marijuana.
The police unions, which have been feeding apocalyptic visions to the tabloids since de Blasio's election despite a steady, slow decrease in crime, are suggesting that we be very afraid.
“I just see it as another step in giving the streets back to the criminals,” Michael Palladino, the head of the Detectives Endowment Association told the Times. “And we keep inching closer and closer to that.”
Ed Mullins, the head of the Sergeant's Benevolent Association, agreed: “People are asking: ‘What is going on? Is this department losing its mind? Has the city lost its mind?'"
Bratton had an answer for them and their favorite conduit: "Why do some of the press continue to try and scare the hell out of people in this city, that the NYPD is somehow in full retreat of the practices and policies, many of which I put into effect last time I was here," he wondered. "We are not retreating, we are enforcing the law."
Seymour James Jr., the head of the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement, "We are optimistic that this change in official policy will be followed by the officers on the street and avoid the needless arrest of tens of thousands of people of color in communities throughout the City."
The Drug Policy Alliance, which helped author the recent study of the city's marijuana arrests, said they were "cautiously optimistic."
Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson said he agreed with the policy itself, but wondered how the already-clogged court system would react to being choked with tens of thousands of more summonses, all of which are not reviewed by prosecutors before a court hearing.
"I am concerned about the due process rights of those who are given marijuana summonses, which for Brooklyn, will be addressed at a location in Manhattan that is already overburdened," Thompson said.