Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, joined by advocates from the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, VOCAL NY, and the Drug Policy Alliance, gathered in front of One Police Plaza today to celebrate an internal order issued by NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly to all precinct commanding officers to stop arresting New Yorkers for small quantities of marijuana if the marijuana is not in plain view.
In 2010, more than 54,000 people - mostly black or Latino - were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana in New York State. More than 50,000 of those arrests occurred in New York City, making it the most frequent arrest citywide.
On Monday, September 19, responding to mounting public pressure from elected officials and advocates, NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued an operations order that clarified existing marijuana possession laws, instructing officers not to arrest people for marijuana in public view when complying with an officer’s demand to “empty their pockets.” This change could lead to the reduction of tens of thousands of arrests in New York City.
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“The internal directive issued by Commissioner Kelly is a positive step toward a more equitable criminal justice system that treats everyone the same, regardless of race or socioeconomic status,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. “The NYPD’s aggressive stop and frisk practices that have lead to the explosion of improper marijuana arrests in communities of color have helped poison the relationship between the community and police. We will continue to push for the passage of state legislation that changes public view possession of small quantities of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation.”
Commissioner Kelly’s operations order can be made permanent, and apply to all of New York State, by passing A.7620 (Jeffries) and S.5187 (Grisanti, R-Buffalo). This legislation would standardize penalties for marijuana possession offences, protect New Yorkers from illegal searches, save taxpayer dollars, and bring down the disproportionately high number of arrests among black and Latino men for marijuana-related crimes by eliminating the misdemeanor charge.
“The New York City Police Commissioner did the right thing when he issued his directive not to arrest people who produce small amounts of marijuana in public view when compelled by police,” said New York State Senator Mark Grisanti (R- Buffalo). “Unfortunately, this order does not impact people in Buffalo who experience these same situations every day. We can make this order permanent and have it apply statewide by passing legislation in Albany that will help put an end to these racially biased, fiscally wasteful, and unlawful arrests for small amounts of marijuana.”
Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito introduced a City Council resolution that Council Member Williams is sponsoring that supports the passage of this legislation.
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“The directive issued by Commissioner Kelly is a huge victory for communities of color in the city of New York, who for years have been disproportionately targeted for small-time marijuana arrests,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Finally, the NYPD will be respecting the intent of the state law that decriminalized small amounts of marijuana decades ago, and our youth will no longer face arrest for this small-time offense.
“I personally raised this issue with Commissioner Kelly at two different Council hearings earlier this year as a major concern for my district and communities like mine across the city,” Mark-Viverito said. “I applaud the Commissioner for acting on the concerns that so many of us in the Council and beyond have been expressing about this policy. We will continue to closely monitor how stop and frisk policies are carried out in our city and to advocate for the passage of the State legislation introduced by Senator Grisanti and Assemblyman Jeffries.”
Marijuana has been decriminalized in New York state since 1977, making possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana a violation, punishable by a $100 fine, not arrest and jail. However, possessing or burning marijuana in public view is a criminal offense punishable by arrest and jail.
“Commissioner Kelly has finally answered the alarm sounded by advocates and our communities,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams. “However, it will take continued vigilance on all of our parts to make sure that officers are patrol are heeding the message and bringing an end to the racial inequality and fiscal waste of this disturbing trend of illegal arrests. We also must continue to push for the bipartisan state legislation that will ensure this order is made permanent for all New Yorkers.”
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|Kyung Ji Rhee, director, Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives: “We will continue to hold the NYPD accountable”|
Since 1996, the New York City Police Department has made over 535,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Although the “public view” provision was meant to criminalize public display and smoking of marijuana, most of these arrests were not for that offense, but instead the result of complying with an officer’s demand to disclose contraband or from a police search and being improperly charged for “marijuana in public view” instead of the non-criminal violation offense. Although marijuana use is higher among whites, 86% of those arrested for marijuana possession were young Black and Latino youth.
Advocates who have worked for years to address the out of control marijuana arrests by NYPD weighed in on the significance of the recent directive.
“It must be noted that these spurious arrests are largely a result of a racially biased and improper stop and frisk practice that often result in illegal searches, and this order does not address this injustice,” said Kyung Ji Rhee, director of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. “We will continue to hold NYPD accountable on this front.”
“It’s about time!,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “I just want to give a belated thanks to Ray Kelly for agreeing at last to comply with both the spirit and letter of the marijuana decriminalization law that New York enacted back in 1977.”
“We can’t talk about marijuana arrests without bringing up why they happen in the first place—stop and frisks and illegal searches that are targeted in communities of color,” said Alfredo Carrasquillo, a community organizer for VOCAL-NY who has been arrested in the past for marijuana possession. “That won’t necessarily change as a result of this new policy, but it should. Mayor Bloomberg must also seal the records of people who have been convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana in the past given that he knows how difficult it can make finding a job or housing.”