NYPD Ordered to Stop Marijuana Possession Arrests

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Phillip Smith
Stop the Drug War

New York City may soon shed its infamous reputation as the pot bust capital of the world. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly Monday issued an internal order to the NYPD telling officers they can no longer arrest people for marijuana possession in public view if the marijuana was not in public view before officers either searched the person and produced it or the person produced it after an officer’s demand that he empty his pockets.

Although New York state has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the NYPD has made a practice of stopping people — mainly young people of color — on the streets, searching them or demanding they empty their pockets, then charging them with possession in public view. Unlike simple pot possession, which is only a ticketable offense, possession in public view is an arrestable offense that typically results in a day-long stay in jail before the defendant can appear before a judge.

New York City and the NYPD have come under increasingly heat over the practice, which has resulted in tens of thousands of marijuana in public view arrests each year in recent years. The policy began under the administration of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but has continued under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who famously admitted having smoked pot and enjoying it.

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Both city council members and state representatives have recently taken up the call to end the practice. A bipartisan bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view was recently introduced in Albany.

“Questions have been raised about the processing of certain marihuana arrests,” Kelly wrote in the internal order delivered to commanders this week. “At issue is whether the circumstances under which uniformed members of the service recover small amounts of marihuana … from subjects in a public place support the charge of Criminal Possession of Marihuana in the Fifth Degree.

“The specific circumstances in question include occasions when the officers recover marihuana pursuant to a search of subject’s person or upon direction to the subject to surrender the contents of his/her pockets or other closed container. A crime will not be charged to an individual who is compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marijuana. Such circumstances may constitute a violation of [the decriminalization statute], not [the possession in public view statute], a Class B misdemeanor.

“To support a charge [under the possession in public view statute], the public display of marijuana must be an activity taken under the suspect’s own volition. Thus, uniformed members of the service may not charge the individual with [violation of the possession in public view statute], if the marihuana recovered was displayed to the public view at the officer’s discretion.”

So will New York City marijuana arrest numbers now plummet?



New York City, NY
United States

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