New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday proposed that state legislators should reduce the criminal misdemeanor charge for marijuana in public view to a violation with a fine of up to $100.
A statement from the governor's office said the purpose is to reduce unnecessary misdemeanor charges brought against thousands of New Yorkers who are "disproportionately black and Hispanic" and to bring "consistency and fairness" to New York's marijuana laws.
CNN reports that Cuomo, speaking at a press conference in Albany on Monday, said, "There is a blatant inconsistency. If you possess marijuana privately it is a violation, if you show it in public it's a crime. It's incongruous. It's inconsistent the way it has been enforced."
Fox News reports he said: "There have been additional complications in relation to the stop-and-frisk policy where there's claims young people could have a small amount of marijuana in their pocket, where they're stopped and frisked. The police officer says, 'Turn out your pockets.' The marijuana is now in public view. It just went from a violation to a crime."
The New York Times reports that an administration official said, “This proposal will bring long overdue consistency and fairness to New York State’s Penal Law and save thousands of New Yorkers, particularly minority youth, from the unnecessary and life-altering trauma of a criminal arrest and, in some cases, prosecution." The official added that it would also save law enforcement “man-hours wasted for what is clearly only a minor offense."
According to CNN, in 1977, New York's legislature reduced the penalty for 25 grams or less of marijuana in private possession and not in public view to a non-criminal violation with a penalty of up to $100 for first-time offenders. If, however, the marijuana is in public view, it becomes a Class B misdemeanor. CNN reports that marijuana in private possession may come into public view if a police officer asks the person in private possession to empty his or her pockets during a "stop-and-frisk" operation.
CNN notes that Cuomo is not trying to change the law that says selling and smoking of marijuana is a crime, he is only trying to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view. Fox News reports that Cuomo said: "I believe the society does want to discourage the use of marijuana in public, on the street. Smoking a joint, I think, is a different level of activity than just being in possession of it."
Advocates for decriminalizing possession of marijuana in public view say 14 states, including Oregon and Massachusetts, have reduced penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana to fines. Some 16 states, including California, have legalized its use for medical conditions.
CNN reports New York State Assembly member Hakeem Jeffries, said: "The statute as currently written unnecessarily subjects tens of thousands of people to criminal arrest and prosecution for very small quantities of marijuana." He noted that, "The overwhelming majority of people who have been arrested as a result of the way that the statute is currently written come from the black and Latino community." According to Jeffries, statistics and studies show that marijuana possession and use is far more "racially diverse" than arrest statistics suggest.
CNN reports that according to the governor's office, 94 percent of arrests for small amounts of marijuana in the state are in New York City. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the NYPD and police commissioner have under heavy criticism for the controversial "stop-and -risk" policy.
Data released by the governor's office shows that 2,000 arrests for small amounts of marijuana were made in 1990, but in 2011, over 50,000 arrests were made. Fifty percent of those arrested were under 25 years and 82 percent were black or Latino. Less than 10 percent were convicted of a crime.
According to Fox News, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., supports Cuomo's proposal and argued that it would help to redirect resources to fighting more serious crime. CNN reports he said: "The human costs to each defendant charged with a misdemeanor are serious.The simple and fair change proposed by Gov. Cuomo will help us redirect significant resources to the most violent criminals and serious crime problems, and, frankly, it is the right thing to do."
According to Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, "Overly punitive charges have a harmful effect on our justice system.They can ruin lives, waste taxpayer money on unneeded trials, and breed distrust between communities and law enforcement."
Last year, New York police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, reacted to criticisms that police were arresting people and bringing criminal charges of possession of marijuana in public view against them after a police officer asks the person in private possession to empty his or her pockets during a "stop-and-frisk." He issued a directive that officers should issue violations and not misdemeanors for marijuana found during "stop-and-frisk" operations.
Fox News reports that Kelly said at the press conference on Monday, that confusion in the situation where officers bring criminal charges against offenders in "stop-and-frisk" operations would be resolved by Cuomo's proposal. He said, "This (new) law will make certain that the confusion in this situation will be eliminated, and it also mandates that a violation will be charged irrespective as the district attorney said the marijuana is in plain sight or not."
CNN reports Kelly also responded to criticisms that the Police Department was making "too many arrests" for small amounts of marijuana. He said, "...my response to them, was, 'Well, your option is to go to Albany and get the law changed,' better that than having New York City police officers turn a blind eye to the law as it was written, and as it is still written."
CNN reports that on Monday, Mayor Bloomberg issued a statement that appeared in support of Cuomo's proposal. He said: "The governor's proposal today is consistent with the commissioner's directive, and strikes the right balance by ensuring that the NYPD will continue to have the tools it needs to maintain public safety, including making arrests for selling or smoking marijuana. Thanks to the NYPD, our city has come a long way from the days when marijuana was routinely sold and smoked on our streets without repercussions."
The New York Times reports, however, that Mr. Bloomberg has opposed ending arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. His administration has maintained that the arrests help to reduce more serious crime by deterring drug dealing and violence related to the drug trade.