New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have agreed to work together on legislation to reduce the penalty for carrying 25 grams or less of marijuana in New York. The legislation was spurred by concern over the number of African-Americans and Latinos who have found themselves charged with possession after being “stopped and frisked” by New York City police officers. New York City made over 50,000 arrests last year for small amounts of marijuana.
Previously Mayor Bloomberg had opposed reducing the penalty for carrying small amounts of marijuana, claiming he believed that these arrests were an effective deterrent and would ultimately lead to reduction in more serious criminal offenses.
Community leaders and many in the state legislature have long been concerned with the number of arrests, particularly of young minorities, and the impact these arrests and subsequent criminal charges have on future opportunities for young people. Any criminal record makes it incredibly difficult for one to pursue gainful employment and can also interfere with educational opportunities. In a press release, Governor Cuomo criticized the disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos who have been swept into the criminal justice system for what he termed relatively minor offenses.
“Today’s announcement is about creating fairness and consistency in our laws since there is a blatant inconsistency in the way we deal with small amounts of marijuana possession,” Cuomo said. “This is an issue that disproportionately affects young people — they wind up with a permanent stain on their record for something that would otherwise be a violation. The charge makes it more difficult for them to find a job. Together, we are making New York fairer and safer, and ensuring that every New Yorker has access to justice system that doesn’t discriminate based on age or color.”
Under the current New York State Law, individuals in possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana open to public view, can be charged with a misdemeanor. Presently, a small fine is issued for private possession of the same amount of marijuana. The proposed legislation would make all possession of small amounts of marijuana, public or private, a fineable offense. Smoking marijuana in a public place would remain a misdemeanor.
Although significant amounts of marijuana found on those who were stopped and frisked was uncovered after they were asked to empty their pockets, they were still charged with having marijuana in public view. The New York Times reported data released by Harry G. Levine, a sociologist at Queens College which found that from 2002 to 2011, New York City recorded 400,000 low-level marijuana arrests. That figure represents more arrests than Mayor Bloomberg’s three predecessors combined.
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