Marijuana arrests fall in New York after rule change

NEW YORK Wed Dec 7, 2011 5:26pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession have fallen 13 percent in New York City since September, when the police department relaxed its enforcement policy, a police spokesman said on Wednesday.

New York City police made 1,190 fewer marijuana arrests since Commissioner Raymond Kelly's September 19 directive, compared to the same nine-week period a year ago, spokesman Paul Browne said.

A coalition of groups that has criticized the police force for its aggressive approach to marijuana possession called the numbers a "disappointing drop" and said New York City remains the "marijuana arrest capital of the world."

"Unfortunately, these figures are cause for outrage, not celebration," Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance said in a statement. "In this economy, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD are wasting millions of tax dollars by using illegal searches and false charges to sweep tens of thousands of black and Latino youth into the criminal justice system.

A person who is caught smoking marijuana, or has a small amount of it in public view, is still subject to arrest, according to the guidelines. But in cases where "the same small amount" is discovered in a suspect's pockets during a police search, it is considered a violation, punishable by summons, Brown said.

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by David Bailey)

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