Drug War

Cuomo Wants to Decriminalize 'Public Display' of Marijuana

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Responding to the bogus pot busts associated with the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging the state legislature to decriminalize the "public display" of marijuana. Although possessing up to 25 grams (nearly an ounce) of marijuana has been a citable offense similar to a traffic violation in New York since 1977, having marijuana "burning or open to public view" remains a Class B misdemeanor, justifying an arrest. Research by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine indicates that New York City police commonly convert the former offense into the latter by instructing people they stop to remove any contraband they have from their pockets or bags (or by removing it themselves in the course of a pat-down ostensibly aimed at discovering weapons). "Now it's in public view," Levine explains to The New York Times. "If you go by the police reports, all around New York City, there are people standing around with their palms outstretched with a bit of marijuana in them."

As Police Commissioner Ray Kelly acknowledges, this practice of manufacturing misdemeanors is illegal, but it continues despite his September 2011 directive telling cops to cut it out. Cuomo therefore is backing legislation that would curtail such trumped-up charges by treating small amounts of cannabis the same whether they're concealed or in public view. Under Cuomo's proposal, unlike a bill introduced by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo), smoking pot in public would remain a misdemeanor, though one that's a little harder to fake.

A spokesman for Cuomo says "this proposal will bring long overdue consistency and fairness to New York State's Penal Law and save thousands of New Yorkers, particularly minority youth, from the unnecessary and life-altering trauma of a criminal arrest and, in some cases, prosecution." He adds that it would avoid "countless man-hours wasted" on arrests and prosecutions "for what is clearly only a minor offense." Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, notes that pot arrests impose a lasting burden even when the charges ultimately are dropped or dismissed (as usually happens):

For individuals who have any kind of a record, even a minuscule one, the obstacles are enormous to employment and to education. When it's really a huge number of kids in the community who go through this, and all have the same story, the impact is just devastating.

The bogus busts are especially outrageous because the stops that precede them, which supposedly are justified by "reasonable suspicion" of recent, ongoing, or imminent criminal activity, may be illegal as well.

More on New York's pot crackdown here. More on the stop-and-frisk program here.

Update: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who before presiding over a surge in marijuana arrests cheerfully confessed to smoking pot and enjoying it, has endorsed Cuomo's proposal, claiming it is consistent with current policy, which is not really true. Yes, Kelly officially instructed his underlings that they should not charge people with public display when marijuana is revealed due to police intervention. But he did so only after years of intensifying criticism, apparently to head off Jeffries and Gristani's bill, and he showed a distinct lack of curiosity when arrests fell only slightly after he issued his directive. Even in backing Cuomo's proposal, which will still let cops bust people for smoking pot in public, Bloomberg defended his anti-pot crusade:

Thanks to the NYPD, our city has come a long way from the days when marijuana was routinely sold and smoked on our streets without repercussions. By preventing these crimes, and targeting police resources to where they are needed most, we have cut crime by 35 percent over the past decade. 

Bloomberg thus attributes the entire drop in crime since he took office not only to his administration's efforts but specifically to his marijuana crackdown. Yet somehow cities that were less zealous about arresting marijuana offenders experienced similar or bigger reductions in crime during the same period.

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  1. Cops know that if you can’t afford a lawyer, and most people can’t, that they can do whatever the fuck they want.

    Why? Because “Fuck you”, that’s why.

    1. What about Public Defenders?

      1. “If you can’t afford an attorney, we’ll provide you with the dumbest fucking lawyer on earth.”

      2. What about Public Defenders Pretenders?

        ftfy

  2. Ray Kelly acknowledges, this practice of manufacturing misdemeanors is illegal, but it continues despite his September 2011 directive telling cops to cut it out.

    Are you saying the cops are not following procedure. We were told repeatedly that cops always follow procedure. And if they don’t they are fired (or at least disciplined). Too bad we couldn’t move NYC to CA and cut them loose.

  3. Cuomo is trying to convince a legislature in a state where municipalities are attempting to make purchasing a soda more than 16 oz illegal to legalize the public display of weed legal?

    It is just political posturing. Good luck with that.

  4. Under Cuomo’s proposal … smoking pot in public would remain a misdemeanor, though one that’s a little harder to fake.

    I’m sure no cop will ever think of shoving a lit joint into someone’s mouth and forcing them to smoke it.

    1. I’m sure no cop will ever think of shoving a lit joint into someone’s mouth and forcing them to smoke it.

      You’re thinking to hard about it Loki. The cop will simply smoke half a joint, seal the other half in an evidence bag, and there you go.

      “Your Honor, this is the joint the perp was smoking when we apprehended him.”

      Easy as shooting a dog.

      1. Easy as shooting a dog.

        Much win.

      2. That would work as long as they make sure not to do a tox screen.

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