Weed Penalties In NYC Are Taking A Drastic Turn

by Clarissa-Jan Lim

In a huge policy shift for the NYPD, New Yorkers will be issued tickets instead of being arrested for marijuana possession come Nov. 19. In a city known for its notorious stop-and-frisk policies that have been proven ineffective and detrimental to minorities, the move is a major step towards what Mayor Bill de Blasio said was part of the NYPD's effort to build “a closer relationship” with the public.

According to the Village Voice, if you're caught with 25 grams — about ¾ of a sandwich bag (fact-checked with a pothead friend of mine) — or less of weed in New York City, you'll be given a ticket with a $100 fine, for a first offense. Your second ticket, if within two years of the first, will cost you up to $250. In all instances, your weed will be taken away from you. :(

However, the NYPD's tolerance only goes so far — if an officer determines that you're carrying more than 25 grams, you will be arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute. And if convicted, you'll face up to nine years in prison.

It's a marked change from how the NYPD previously handled such cases — in 2013, over 28,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession alone, most of them blacks or Hispanics, reported the New York Times.

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At a news conference on Monday, Mayor de Blasio said:

I came into office with a pledge to incessantly heal wounds of the past. Today is another step... We've come to a policy that makes sense. This policy will give officers more time to continue with their work ... rather than get bogged down with making an unproductive arrest.

In 1977, New York state decriminalized private possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana. The Times, however, reported that from the mid-1990s onwards, police have systematically arrested and charged people with marijuana on them, even though the law stipulated that arrests should only be made if marijuana was burning or discovered in public view.

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Speaking alongside de Blasio, the New York Police Commissioner, William J. Bratton, said that NYPD officers have the discretion of estimating how much marijuana a person is carrying. Bratton said:

I don't want [my officers] chasing down 25-gram bags of marijuana and tied up for hours in court.
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Both the mayor and commissioner have stated that they aren't in favor of legalization. But the move comes on the heels of Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C. voting to legalize cannabis. If not having reached that level of consensus yet, the NYPD's policy shift signals a change in its attitude in dealing with marijuana — and perhaps a wider, hopefully national trend of authorities chilling out about weed.

Images: Getty Images (3)