The majority leader of the New York State Senate is not completely on board with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to decriminalize "public display" of marijuana. Sen. Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, agrees that police should not stop someone on the street, instruct him to empty his pockets, and then bust him for having marijuana "in public view," a misdemeanor, when he produces a joint or a bag of pot. "That is wrong," Skelos says. "It should be a violation. You're following the policeman's order." But Skelos worries that people will be "able to just walk around with 10 joints in each ear," risking nothing more than a citation and a $100 fine, which has been the maximum penalty for possessing up to 25 grams (nearly an ounce) of marijuana in New York state since 1977.
Police in New York City have been routinely flouting that policy for a decade and a half, goosing their arrest numbers by turning what should be citable offenses into misdemeanors. Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to defend this crackdown on pot smokers as a crucial crime-fighting strategy, going so far as to credit it with the entire reduction in crime that New York has seen since he took office (a period when other big cities saw similar or bigger reductions). Yet that has not stopped Bloomberg from endorsing the change backed by Cuomo. As for Skelos' concern, Cuomo's spokesman suggested that "carrying 10 joints in each ear would require some set of ears," adding, "We look forward to working these issues through with the Senate in order to end an injustice that has been allowed to go on for too long." The state Assembly is expected to consider the legislation next week.