Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a new plan regarding the enforcement of law on marijuana possession. According to the new announcement, people found in possession of small amounts of marijuana will be given a ticket and will be cited for violation instead of being arrested and charged for a crime.
This could potentially be the most significant criminal justice policy initiative since the mayor took office in January of this year. Mr. de Blasio has clarified that this policy change does not advocate the decriminalization of marijuana but does change the way the Police Department currently handles low-level marijuana arrests.
“It’s not decriminalization,” said Joanne Naughton, a former NYPD officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP. “People will be summoned into a criminal court to answer to criminal charges.” If those summoned fail to appear in court, judges could issue arrest warrants.
Tens of thousands of marijuana arrests are made by the Police Department every year and this shift in strategy would enable officers to focus on more serious crimes and would also reduce the administrative tasks associated with minor marijuana arrests. Also, marijuana enforcement ensnares many first-time offenders. Approximately 75 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession have no prior criminal record.
According to the Mayor, “When an individual is arrested,” he said, “even for the smallest possession of marijuana, it hurts their chances to get a good job; it hurts their chances to get housing; it hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan. It can literally follow them for the rest of their lives and saddle young people with challenges that, for many, are very difficult to overcome.”
The new policy will be in effect from November 19, 2014. Under the new rules, people with 25 grams or less of marijuana in public view will be issued a noncriminal violation instead of an arrest for a misdemeanor. In addition, violations would not constitute a criminal record. Court appearances would be within weeks of the violation and could lead up to a fine of $100 in case of a first offense. Officers will still be using their discretion and arrests can still be made if marijuana is being burned or smoked. Moreover, if the offender(s) already had an active warrant or are unable to produce proper identification, they could also be taken to the police station.