Late last week, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered the NYPD to cease the dubious practice of arresting people for publicly displaying small amounts of marijuana at the direction of the officer.
New York City law dictates that getting caught carrying anything less than 1 ounce (around 25 grams) of marijuana is a simple violation (equivalent to a traffic citation), but only if the grass isn’t in public view – that’s when it magically and unfortunately transforms into an arrestable misdemeanor. For years, however, police officers have been straining the bounds of an already controversial “stop and frisk” law that allows them to search anybody on the street – at any time, and for any reason – by arresting offenders for bringing the marijuana out into public view when the officer orders them to. Thanks to Commissioner Kelly, this abuse will stop immediately.
Quoth the commish:
To support a charge, the public display of marihuana must be an activity undertaken of the subject’s own volition. Thus, uniformed members of the service lawfully exercising their police powers during a stop may not charge the individual with [public display] if the marihuana recovered was disclosed to public view at an officer’s discretion.
If you’ve never been stopped and frisked (I haven’t either, luckily enough), it’s probably because you live in gentrified Brooklyn or the well-off neighborhoods surrounding NYU – the practice is primarily reserved for lower-income black and Hispanic areas, and its done wonders to fill the NYPD’s massive quotas. In fact, even though studies show that whites are more prone to smoking than blacks, the odds of getting arrested for possession and display are 150 times greater in non-white areas.
Kelly’s order is, however, forward movement – after a week of unpunished police brutality at Wall Street, it’s a welcome rebuke against the guys with the guns. In the face of being the drug-arrest capital of the world, most people forget that marijuana is decriminalized in the state of New York, especially the blacks and Latinos who comprise a staggering 85% of those arrested. Whether or not this is one step closer to actual legalization remains to be seen, but as we’ve seen over the years, it’s a debate that was over before it began.