November 11, 2014 / 12:41 PM / 3 years ago

New York City police to stop arresting for low-level marijuana possession

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City police will begin issuing a summons rather than making a misdemeanor arrest for most people caught carrying small amounts of marijuana, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said on Monday.

The new policy does not apply to smoking marijuana in public, which will continue to trigger a misdemeanor arrest, warned Bratton, who suggested the best way to avoid problems is not to smoke pot.

“Don’t carry it, don’t smoke it, don’t use it,” he said at a news conference alongside New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I am not giving ‘get out of jail free’ cards.”

The new policy is aimed mainly at freeing up police manpower and improving relations with New Yorkers belonging to ethnic minorities, who account for the large majority of last year’s roughly 29,000 arrests for public display or smoking of marijuana.

Last fall, de Blasio won New York’s mayoral race by campaigning against police tactics that had led to a spike in arrests of young, mostly black and Latino men during previous police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s 12-year tenure.

NYPD Chief Thomas Purtell stands next to a marijuana arrest chart during a news conference regarding marijuana policy in New York November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The political battle ended up in federal court, where a judge ordered that an outside monitor oversee reforms of the police’s use of stop-and-frisk tactics, which were disproportionately used on black and Latino men.

The new marijuana policy, created in conjunction with City Hall officials, is the most significant step de Blasio has taken toward his promise to rebuild the police department’s community relations.

“Too many New Yorkers without any prior convictions have been arrested for low-level marijuana arrests,” de Blasio said. “It can literally follow young people for the rest of their lives.”

Yet by taking the majority of the marijuana-possession cases out of the court system, the police will no longer be able to track the ethnicity of people who will now, in most cases, be simply handed a ticket rather than handcuffed.

The new policy will only apply to first- and second-time offenders with no criminal records, outstanding warrants, or those found to be carrying other illegal substances. Any marijuana discovered by police will continue to be seized as before, officials said.

Holding a bag of roughly 25 grams of oregano, which looks similar to marijuana, Bratton said it would now take more than that much “dope” to trigger an arrest. He said the street value of 25 grams is about $300 in New York.

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