By Bill Parry
Starting in September, the majority of New Yorkers caught smoking marijuana in public will be issued criminal summonses instead of being arrested, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced Tuesday. According to NYPD projections, the new policy will likely reduce overall marijuana arrests in New York City by nearly 10,000 per year based on 2017 arrest records and patterns.
New Yorkers will still be subject to arrest if they are on probation or parole, if they have existing criminal warrants, don’t have identification, have a recent documented history of violence or their smoking poses an immediate public safety risk — such as while driving a car.
“Nobody’s destiny should hinge on a minor non-violent offense,” de Blasio said. “Neighborhood policing has helped to bring officers and community together, but we still have more work to do to right the wrongs in our criminal justice system. This new policy will help reduce unnecessary arrests, while making our city fairer and safer.”
Patrol officers will receive guidance on how to implement this new policy during the summer.
“We know that it is not productive to arrest people who have no prior criminal history,” O’Neill said. “In fact, it hampers our efforts to build trust and strengthen relationships with the people we serve, and it does nothing to further the NYPD’s mission of ridding our streets of those responsible for violence and disorder. Issuing summonses for marijuana offenses that do not directly affect public safety will allow our officers to do their jobs effectively and safely, and in a way that always promotes public safety and quality of life for all New Yorkers.”
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown called the new policy a wise middle ground.
“By choosing this sensible path, by which only the presence of limited aggravating factors will justify an arrest, the Police Department will continue to have the ability to control the activity without the majority of those committing the offenses being arrested and put through the system.” Brown said.
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), chairman of the Committee on the Justice System, was not impressed.
“The mayor’s new marijuana enforcement policy is a marginal improvement, but a real missed opportunity to fundamentally change how the city polices marijuana possession and smoking,” Lancman said. “No one should be arrested for smoking marijuana, period. Further, the mayor’s policy does not attempt to reduce criminal summonses at all, still allows arrests in certain circumstances that cannot be justified by public safety, will likely make marijuana policing even more discriminatory toward people of color, continues to expose noncitizens to deportation, and takes no steps to eliminate the collateral consequences which are in the city’s control.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr