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.