This weekend, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told the NYPD to stop arresting people who are caught in public smoking marijuana.
His statement comes as the NYPD evaluates its cannabis enforcement procedures amid criticism that its pot sentences are too harsh. The public smoking issue is “certainly part of that review,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Phil Walk.
The NYPD will present its recommendations within 30 days at de Blasio’s request. Any changes to NYPD policy on smoking weed in public wouldn’t take effect until the end of the summer.
Smoking weed in New York can currently result in arrest. Simple possession of small amounts of cannabis can lead to a summons.
On May 15, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance made a major announcement that his office would end the prosecution of marijuana possession and smoking cases starting August 1. Under current policy, people can be arrested, fingerprinted and required to appear in court when caught with cannabis. The department has been under scrutiny recently amid revelations that it continues to arrest a disproportionate number of minorities for minor pot offenses while rates of use and possession of cannabis remain roughly the same across races.
New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the NYPD shouldn’t make arrests that don’t impact public safety. O’Neill added “we need an honest assessment” about why racial disparities in marijuana arrests rates exist. The NYPD is expected to devise initiatives to address the disparities, but those aren’t yet determined.
“After decades of community-led efforts to reduce the harms caused by racially biased enforcement of marijuana prohibition, New York City appears poised to take another step forward to curb arrests further,” said Kassandra Frederique of the Drug Policy Alliance and Jeremy Saunders of VOCAL-NY in a joint statement on de Blasio’s comments.
They also noted the importance of correcting the past harms of the War on Drugs by expunging the records of people who have been arrested in the past for marijuana and making sure that the new policy on weed arrests is not so vague that it allows police to still incarcerate people based on arbitrary “public safety justifications.”
Mayor de Blasio has long opposed cannabis legalization. But he now says it’s “inevitable” and is creating an official task force to prepare.
“With marijuana legalization likely to occur in our state in the near future, it is critical our city plans for the public safety, health and financial consequences involved,” the mayor said. “My focus now will be helping to craft the critical regulatory framework that must come before legalization is realized.”
The task force will have city officials lay the groundwork for full legalization. That will include sussing out zoning for pot dispensaries. It will also examine what public education campaigns about smoking marijuana might look like and how to ensure economic fairness under legalization.