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New York City: Police Commissioner Calls On Officers To Curb Marijuana Arrests

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 27, 2011

    [Editor's note: This post is excerpted from this week's forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML's media alerts and legislative advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up here. To watch NORML's weekly video summary of the week's top stories, click here.]

    New York City police officers are to cease making misdemeanor marijuana arrests in cases where the contraband was not displayed in public view, according to an internal order issued late last week by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and reported by the New York Post.

    Although simple marijuana possession is a noncriminal violation in New York State, if the marijuana is ‘open to public view’ police can charge a suspect with a criminal misdemeanor.

    In 2010, city police made 50,383 lowest level marijuana possession arrests [NY State Penal Law 221.10] involving cases where marijuana was either used or possessed in public. The total was the second highest in the city’s history and was an increase of over 5,000 percent from 1990, when police reported fewer than 1,000 low-level pot arrests. Over 85 percent of those charged typically are either African American or Latino.

    However, an investigation in April by New York City public radio station WNYC questioned the legality of many of those arrested. It concluded that police routinely conduct warrantless ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches of civilians, find marijuana hidden on their persons, and then falsely charge them with possessing pot ‘open to public view.’

    The Commissioner’s new order stipulates that marijuana discovered during a police search is a violation punishable by a ticket only. The memo states that if the contraband ‘was disclosed to public view at an officer’s direction’ then it is not sufficient evidence that a suspect is in violation of state Penal Law 221.10.

    Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, who has documented the racial disparity in arrest rates in New York City and elsewhere, stated: “[I’m] pleased that the NYPD agrees that these marijuana arrests have not been proper and will begin to curtail them. We are always encouraged when the police decide to obey the law.” He added: “New York City’s routine policing practices, especially for drug possession, require major reform. This is only the first step.”

    Bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce penalties for those in violation of Penal Law 221.10 to a non-criminal violation remains pending in the state assembly.

    An online analysis of marijuana arrest in New York and other major cities nationwide is now available online by the Marijuana Arrests Research Project at: http://www.marijuana-arrests.com.

    29 Responses to “New York City: Police Commissioner Calls On Officers To Curb Marijuana Arrests”

    1. Ben says:

      This is kind of nice to hear, but let’s see if the commish’s order actually has any effect on the rank-and-file.

      1st priority should still be to get ALL possession(“public” or not) under 1 ounce to be non-arrestable offences.

    2. tommas says:

      I think the race thing and 9/11 are key factors.

      All I can say is pre 9/11 at a yankee world series parade (I am a mets fan but love a parade) I smoked a blunt with friends in the MIDDLE OF THE TRADE CENTER buildings. Two very nice officers simply came up to my friends and I and told us to move along… thats it, we said thank you and have a nice day.

      BUT, I was a white suburban teenager.. if that was different so might have been the outcome of that day.

      PS.. My drunken irish friend was arrested at the train station though.

    3. Just An Observer says:

      Now folks know why we used to say “Off The Pigs!” back in the Sixties…LOL! Nothing is worse than government sanctioned criminals with badges, guns, fast cars and bad attitudes. Think this is new news? Go watch the movie “Serpico”. Bad cop-no dounut stories have been around as long as we’ve had cops and despite this tiny bit of reprimanding, don’t think the situation will improve.

    4. Chris in WI says:

      My question is; what exactly needs to happen for the dream of full legalization for adults to be realized? Federally we need descheduling from CSA and we have to leave single convention. Then we need to lose all the state laws. Am I missing anything?

      Can you guys do a write-up on what exactly needs to happen to get to the end goal?

      I’m having a hard time seeing federal prohibition lasting much longer the way public opinion has shifted.

      http://wh.gov/gKN is another good petition I noticed too, can we help them get over 150 signatures? I think it should take care of itself once it shows up in the list of open petitions. ALL government agencies should rely on science over policy for policies sake. (I’m looking at you drug czar).

    5. Greg says:

      Now someone needs to open a lawsuit on behalf of all those who were criminalized at an officer’s behest.

    6. Brandon says:

      No one gets arrested for marijuana (Former DEA head, Asa, just said that the other day), yeah and we don’t breath air!

    7. SkunkyFingers says:

      Maybe it’s because Mexico President just lashed out at the USA saying laws must change in USA. check it out. http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/09/23/does-mexicos-president-want-to-legalize-marijuana/?iref=allsearch

    8. Cal Sullivan says:

      The facts are starting to come to light. Hopefully people will start to wake up to how many lives are ruined daily (In NYC anyways) due to this ridiculous prohibition.

    9. Michael Hennigan says:

      Mary Jane is an exit drug not a gateway drug. Wanna quit alcohol, quit coke, quit meth, quit all the killer drugs? Substitute MJ.

    10. Andy says:

      …… falsely charge them with possessing Pot open to ” public view “. Well, i only thought Police corruption exsisted here in, Santa Barbara or Los Angeles,
      California .
      Here people walk down the Street smoking Pot or sit down on the sidewalk smoking Pot & i have yet seen a single person get arrested but the Police will however falsely charge you with drunk driving when your not drunk driving & falisfy your alcohol level by exaggerating it to make an arrest or give you a moving violation such as impeding the flow of traffic when your parked in a red zone when your lane is 3 cars wide & traffic is easily driving by you .They do this because an impeding ticket gives the City & our crooked Mayor more money than a red zone parking fine & the City is broke .

      Well, i guess Police corruption comes in all forms .

    11. Anonymous says:

      In New York, possession of small amounts of marijuana is only a criminal offense if it is displayed in public. Kelly’s order reminds officers that if marijuana comes into public view at the direction of an officer — either when an officer pulls the drug out of a person’s clothes or a person is ordered by an officer to empty out his pockets — it’s not a misdemeanor, and instead should only be treated as a violation, which is a ticketable offense.

      THIS IS STILL RIDULOUSNESS . NOBODY SHOULD BE ARRESTED FOR POSSESSION OF MARIJUANA…………..PERIOD .

    12. Ll says:

      Where I live, there has been a spike in murders in the past few years, and the solution was to put more cops on the streets.

      The result has not been a decrease in murders but an increase in traffic tickets!

      Cops, listen up: If you want to lower murders, end prohibition.

    13. Ll says:

      Here is a great slogan: “Would Harry Anslinger have arrested Jesus?”

    14. [...] Commissioner Calls On Officers To Curb Marijuana Arrests September 27th, 2011 / Paul Armentano / NORML New York City police officers are to cease making misdemeanor marijuana arrests in cases where [...]

    15. claygooding says:

      Li,,,answer,,yes,,if he thought it would advance his bureaucratic power.

      Is the directive from a police commissioner going to stop the easy arrest game,,,I doubt it,,,because it does nothing to address the racial enforcement the NY cops are used too.

    16. Joel : the other Joel says:

      Curb marijuana arrest?

      That is a tough addiction to brake.

    17. Matt says:

      “police routinely conduct warrantless ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches of civilians, find marijuana hidden on their persons, and then falsely charge them with possessing pot ‘open to public view.”

      Whats sad is that ppl dont know their rights- police can do a “weapons pat down” if you are walking the streets. seeing you out late at night looking like a criminal is only a reasonable suspicion in which they can do the “pat down” which a “squishy” bag of cannabis can by no means be construed as a “weapon”. They are looking for sharp or blunt objects. IF you dont give them permission to search you then you dont waive your rights and any “squishy” items they might find will not be evidence and your case will probably be thrown out in court. This will take some resistance by stepping back if they reach in your pocket upon “patting” or firmly saying out loud that you do NOT give permission for them to “reach for personal items” but by no means resist arrest!!!, they are going to arrest you anyway for the drugs so just try to assert your rights the best means possible. If you do so and can somewhat prove that it was an illegal search and seizure, then the system has nothing against you. prob gonna need a lawyer to argue and prove that but its still cheaper than another charge on your record, with days in jail (lost money if you have and job and prob lost your job anyway if you dont bail out right away) court fees, probation, drug counseling, or whatever else they throw at you….i know police are corrupt and do some crazy shit but i hope this helps a little and i know its hard to do when intimidated and harassed by the cops, but try your best. and dont resist!!!

    18. Nancy Lee Garrett says:

      Michael Hennigan #10 Thanks for mentioning that I just met another young person tell me she got off crack by using Mary Jane it helped her get through withdrawal. She was pregnant and had to get off that hard stuff.She did not want to smoke pot but it was the only thing she could count on. She tried to get help from social services but they said they wanted her to give up the baby when she delivered him. The baby was fine when he was delivered into the world. Beautiful healthy baby boy.

    19. Nancy Lee Garrett says:

      Oh I forgot she doesn’t smoke crack anymore. just smokes MJ once in a while. She said it is too expensive here. It is really expensive in Maryland. it runs from $60 to $120 for a quarter oz. here. I hope the price goes down when it is legal. I think it will be legal really soon. I am willing to bet it will be legal in the spring of 2012 if not sooner. I don’t know why I guess it is my woman’s intuition.

    20. Joel says:

      sign the “support HR 2306″ petition on the White House board, local law enforcement shouldn’t have to duck around federal laws.

      https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions/!/petition/support-hr-2306-ending-federal-marijuana-prohibition-act-2011/wxvrF8xZ

    21. Manford Mantis says:

      “NO ARRESTS SOUNDS BETTER THAN CURB ARRESTS – BUT – IT’S A START IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.”

    22. eddie says:

      I live in spanish harlem, and Im a dark skinned latino mail. Here is where the nypd arrest rates are highest, and Me and my friends have been stopped and searched and harrased by the police on many occasions. This is a step in the right direction but oh lord, there is so much more work to do. Sure there is a policy, but now who will enforce it? Im sure cops will still find ways to harrass me about marijuana, the most I can do is get a badge name and number and hope for the best.

    23. Anonymous says:

      dont you all think they found the cash cow

    24. David762 says:

      My ‘spidey senses’ tell me that the Only reason that Mayor Bloomberg has made this important policy change is because he aspires to higher political office (pun intended).

      [ Oh, and regarding those 'spidey senses' of mine: They didn't really develop until After I began smoking cannabis.]

    25. M says:

      on friday my father & cousin were both given a summons at Yankee Stadium just for simple possession. Yes, the same day that this was announced. And the cops refused to acknowledge there were decrim laws in NY or CT.

      Cops are douche bags (except LEAP!)

    26. Anonymous says:

      http://wh.gov/4tJ

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    27. Road Runner Meep! Meep! says:

      NOW VOTE – NOW VOTE – NOW VOTE.

      If you “can” vote – and – you “don’t” vote – you’re the problem you’re bitching about.

    28. akyas says:

      New Change In NYPD Marijuana Arrests Policy:

      http://four20ny.com/vids_watch.php?id=122 (video)

      On Tuesday, September 27th , Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Jumaane D. Williams were joined by advocates from the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, VOCAL NY, and the Drug Policy Alliance, in front of One Police Plaza to celebrate an internal order issued by NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly to all precinct commanding officers to stop arresting New Yorkers for small quantities of marijuana if the marijuana was not in plain view. (Video by Youtube’s Hakeem Jeffries)

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