For months, Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton insisted that their administration was on track to arrest fewer New Yorkers for minor marijuana possession. The evidence showed otherwise, and now they are announcing that police will no longer make these arrests.
The Times reported on the new policy last night, but had few details, only noting that the Mayor's Office was meeting with the DAs to work on it.
If the idea is to more strictly enforce the 1977 law that makes possessing 25 grams of marijuana out of public view a $100 fine, the city would in theory see fewer arrests (they made more than 28,000 last year) and those New Yorkers wouldn't have the black mark of a misdemeanor on their record.
But if the Mayor and the Police Commissioner intend to hand out misdemeanor summonses for low-level marijuana possession (also called Desk Appearance Tickets) instead of arresting New Yorkers and processing them through the system, this initiative seems deeply flawed.
For one, a misdemeanor is a far more life-altering charge than a violation. And Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson tells the Times that because DATs aren't reviewed by prosecutors before the parties show up in court, "there is a serious concern that many summonses will be issued without the safeguards currently in place. These cases will move forward even when due process violations might have occurred."
The Times piece also offers a first look at Thompson's new policy of declining to prosecute minor pot possession in his borough; he's dropped 34% of the 2,526 cases since July. In 2012, 38.5% of all misdemeanor arrests were dismissed at arraignment, and prosecutors declined to prosecute about 7.5% more.
This form of the policy could shift the burden of thousands of marijuana arrests from the DAs to the court system. And in 2013, a quarter of those who received DATs either failed to show up or pay their fine. No-shows and unpaid fines create arrest warrants.
Both versions of this policy gloss over the fact that these low-level marijuana arrests occur during routine searches when police pat down young men or ask them to empty their pockets; 86% of those young men are black or Hispanic.
The mayor and the police commissioner are set to give more details on the initiative at a 3 p.m. press conference.