New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced that people arrested for marijuana possession will no longer have to spend the night in jail.
In his final State of the City address, Bloomberg stated that from now on, any person arrested for marijuana possession in New York City will not spend the night in jail. Instead, those booked on mere possession of marijuana will be required to show ID and pass a warrant check. Anyone meeting these requirements will be released immediately and given a court date.
“Right now, those arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana are often held in custody overnight. We’re changing that,” Bloomberg said. “Effective next month, anyone presenting an ID and clearing a warrant check will be released directly from the precinct with a desk appearance ticket to return to court. It’s consistent with the law, it’s the right thing to do and it will allow us to target police resources where they’re needed most."
The mayor said this new stance on marijuana enforcement is only one step in his plan to completely change the way the city handles marijuana. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to introduce a bill to decriminalize possession of marijuana under 15 grams, and Bloomberg supports the initiative.
“We know that there’s more we can do to keep New Yorkers, particularly young men, from ending up with a criminal record. Commissioner [Ray] Kelly and I support Governor Cuomo’s proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor, and we’ll work to help him pass it this year. But we won’t wait for that to happen,” Bloomberg said.
New York City currently has one of the highest rates of marijuana arrests worldwide. The pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance reports that over the past decade, “the NYPD has made 400,038 low-level marijuana possession arrests at a cost of $600 million.” The report also points out that between 2007 and 2011, the NYPD made more arrests in five years (227,093) than in the 24 years under Mayors Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudolph Giuliani combined (226,861 arrests between 1978 and 2001).
Many of the city’s recent marijuana arrests have been the direct result of the police stop-and-frisk program, which has greatly expanded over the past decade. In 2012, New Yorkers were stopped by the NYPD 533,042 times, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. In 89 percent of instances, the suspects were innocent of any crime, though many questioned in the stop-and-frisk programs have been arrested for small amounts of marijuana possession, according to the New York Times.
Stop and frisk program has also been widely criticized for disproportionately targeting black and Latino New Yorkers. In 2012, 55 percent of those stopped by the NYPD were black, while 32 percent were Latino. Only 10 percent were white. According to 2010 Census data, only 25.1 percent of New Yorkers are black, while white New Yorkers make up 44.6 percent of the population. Hispanic New Yorkers of any race compose 27.5 percent.
Eric Brown is an IBTimes political reporter who eats far too much pizza. He is a graduate of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and currently resides in Brooklyn.