Activists Doubt New York City’s New Weed Policy Will End Discriminatory Arrests

Since 2014, when de Blasio took office, police have arrested 75,000 New Yorkers in all for pot misdemeanors, and again, people of color account for 87% of these arrests. These tickets are criminal court summonses which require that the offender appear in court and issue a plea of guilty or not guilty. The amount of the fine is up to the judge’s discretion, and can reach a maximum of $100 for a first offense. Public pot smoking or minor possession is considered a violation, not a misdemeanor or felony, and hence the summons is sealed at the end of the case. While this is certainly a positive shift, critics of the policy argue that it does not do enough to protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers from being dragged into the criminal justice system.

The fact that every offender is issued a court summons is especially troublesome, as many low-income individuals may be unable to make their court dates due to work or family-related issues. Summons court judges often issue warrants for individuals who miss their court dates, which can lead to the offender being arrested down the line, escalating penalties.

De Blasio’s policy also includes a number of “Carve-outs” which give police a lot of leeway to continue arresting anyone that they choose, such as allowing officers to detain any minor cannabis offender if they are unable to verify an individual’s ID or address. Mark explained that immigrants without proper ID can be transferred to ICE, and even “Those who have ID and are issued a summons may still face disproportionate, harsh immigration consequences; even a marijuana violation can result in the deportation and permanent separation of an immigrant from their family and community.”

Another carve-out in the new policy allows cops to arrest anyone who is on parole or probation for a former marijuana offense, no matter how minor. “The Mayor and the NYPD need to stop tweaking inherently bad policies and fully halt the pursuit of criminal action against misdemeanor marijuana offenses; it is time to pressure our State legislature to legalize marijuana and begin a robust discussion of the details regarding its regulation.”

While New York City struggles to implement a solution, state legislators may be working on a way to solve the problem for good.

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