New York City police may start only issuing tickets for low-level cannabis possession, replacing arrest as their main recourse. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been working alongside the police department to reduce the city’s annual 50,000 arrests for minor possession charges, according to Time Magazine. The proposal’s advocates at city hall hope to see a change in relations between police and minorities, who have been the main target of current drug possession policy, reports the New York Post.
The promise of reducing cannabis busts was a major platform on de Blasio’s 2013 campaign trail, but studies show that while in office, busts under his administration have mirrored those of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in racial divisions, as well as sheer amount. Hispanics and blacks accounted for 86 percent of arrests for marijuana possession in the first eight months of 2014, according to a study from the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, a comparable number to the 87 percent average for the decade prior.
The Marijuana Arrest Research Report claims that there were 80 arrests for low-level cannabis possession per day in the first four months of 2014, while the 2013 average was 78 arrests per day. In fact, the statistics for arrests in the first four months of the two administrations are nearly mirrored in age, race and criminal history of arrestees, though overall figures are slightly higher under the de Blasio administration.
Controversial “stop-and-frisk” policies have led to lawsuits from the Civil Liberties Union of New York, which claims that the majority of those subjected to such routine stops by police are innocent minorities. In 2013, 169,000 of the 191,500 New Yorkers stopped for street interrogations were innocent, 53 percent were black, 28 percent were Latino and only 12 percent were white, reports the NYCLU.
Possession of a small amount of cannabis out of public view has been a ticket-eligible offence in New York City since 1977, but may only have been treated as such by police until the mid-1990s. Police have routinely equated possession of even small amounts of marijuana to a trip to the station and a misdemeanor charge. According to The New York Times, Raymond W. Kelly, former police commissioner, issued an order in 2011 reminding police of the 1977 law, though current figures suggest that order may already have been forgotten.
Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, worries that due process may suffer, should the proposal be enacted. Without an arrest, cases typically go to court with no prosecutorial review, meaning that summons may be issued without the same safeguards available in instances of arrest. Thompson adds that missed court dates and unpaid court fees mean arrest warrants for defendants.
Many questions about the specifics of the proposed change in New York City have yet to be answered, such as how many grams of cannabis may be eligible for ticket-only enforcement, what the cost of fines will be when a summons is issued, or the effects of the summons on the defendant’s criminal history. A meeting with the mayor and the five district attorney’s offices later this week is aimed at answering some of these questions.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa
Photo by: Brett Sayer – Flickr License