Last year the NYPD arrested 50,383 people for low-level marijuana offenses, making low-level pot possession the number one cause of arrest in NYC. On average, nearly 140 people are arrested every day for marijuana possession in NYC, according to stats released by the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services and obtained by the Drug Policy Alliance. The announcement from the reformist group also comes with a friendly reminder that possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana was decriminalized 30 years ago. Not that this stops cops from arresting you for it. Here's how they do it, according to the DPA:
Possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana was decriminalized - that is, it was made a violation, with the first offense facing a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, not arrest and jail. Marijuana burning or "in public view" was made a criminal offense, a misdemeanor. Most people arrested for marijuana possession were not smoking in public; most simply had a small amount of marijuana in their pocket, purse or bag.
Possessing a small amount of marijuana in one's pocket or bag is a legal violation, not a criminal offense. But quite often, when police stop and question a person, they say "empty your pockets" or "open your bag." Many people comply with the officer's request. If a person pulls marijuana from their pocket or bag, it makes the marijuana "open to public view," a crime. The police then arrest the person for this misdemeanor.
So the solution's simple—if you're holding, just politely decline to empty your pockets. The officer will defer to your nuanced grasp of the law and respect your right to privacy, and you'll be on your merry way! Gabriel Sayegh at the Drug Policy Alliance elaborates: "A full search—in which the person stopped is required to empty his pockets, or where an officer puts his hands in an individual's pocket or otherwise goes beyond the pat down of outer clothing for the purpose of determining if there is a weapon (the 'frisk')—this requires probable cause, that is, enough evidence to justify an arrest.
"What is happening with many of the arrests is that police are ordering people to empty their pockets, discovering marijuana, and then arresting people for marijuana—but where was the probable cause for the arrest in the first place? Answer: There wasn’t any. If an officer has stopped someone and says, 'empty your pockets,' the person can ask, 'Am I under arrest?' If not, you are free to go. If the police say you’re being arrested, then they can go into your pockets (conduct a full search), but legally speaking, they have to have probable cause to arrest you in the first place and possession of marijuana isn’t a criminal act.
"In short, people can not empty their pockets, but the cops might get a bit miffed by this, and that could be more problematic than actually just cooperating. Either way, people should always say 'I don’t consent to a search.' " Especially if you've got a nice fat doobie in your trousers. But whatever you do, just don't run.