NYC Mayor Wants Police to Stop Arresting Pot Smokers

May 22, 2018 Last Updated: June 20, 2018

Over the weekend, Mayor Bill de Blasio told the NYPD to stop arresting people found smoking marijuana in public, and to instead issue them a summons to appear in court.

Smoking marijuana is still illegal in the city and the state, but the consequences for doing so are becoming fewer and fewer.

This, de Blasio says, is intentional as he seeks to decrease the number of arrests in the city while still reducing crime.

Under de Blasio, city police stopped arresting people for possession of marijuana under 25 grams in 2014, but they continued to arrest offenders who were smoking it in public.

Now, someone may still be arrested if they fail to make their summons, but “the history is that people take summonses seriously in many cases,” de Blasio argued.

Earlier this month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced that his office would no longer prosecute people for smoking or possessing marijuana, and estimated this would reduce the number of marijuana-related cases from 5,000 to about 200 a year.

“We are in discussions with the Mayor and Police Commissioner to consider limited exceptions to this policy, the goal of which is to radically reduce the criminal prosecution of these offenses,” Vance Jr. said in a statement.

The mayor has started preparing for the eventual legalization of the drug in the city, a move propelled, he said, by the actions of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who says he’s still looking at the pros and cons of legalization.

Medical marijuana was legalized in the state in 2014, and at the time, Cuomo said the legislation “strikes the right balance between our desire to give those suffering from serious diseases access to treatment, and our obligation to guard against threats to public health and safety.”

But in his January State of the State address, Cuomo called for a study to examine the impacts of legalizing the drug, saying that while he was opposed to it, “things are happening.”

He cited its legalization in Massachusettes in 2016 and the push by New Jersey’s liberal governor to legalize it in the Garden State.

The fact-finding part of that study is due out this fall, Politico reported.

The Trump administration has not shown the same affinity for pot. In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance from the Justice Department that advised not enforcing federal laws on marijuana in states where it has been legalized.

De Blasio, a Democrat, has said publicly he doesn’t think legalizing marijuana for recreational use would be good for the city. “I would be very concerned about negative health impacts of legalization,” he said last August, also highlighting public safety as a concern.

But he also hasn’t publicly put up a resistance to it being legalized in the state, and has also said he could be convinced otherwise.

“We have more and more information coming in from the places that have instituted the policy [of legalization],” he said last August, “and I’ve said consistently, we should look at that information, we should see if it tells us something.”

Now, saying its legalization in New York is “likely inevitable,” de Blasio has decided to be proactive by creating a task force to deal with issues like the zoning for dispensaries and how police will deal with public smoking.

The other reason he’s working to minimize penalties for it, he says, is the disparity in arrests between whites and people of color, who are arrested at higher rates for the same marijuana-related offenses than whites.

However, the Drug Policy Alliance, which is leading marijuana legalization campaigns in New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York, found that while legalizing recreational marijuana decreased the number of overall arrests, blacks were still arrested proportionately more than whites and other minorities.