06/06/2012 09:46 am ET

Marijuana Arrests By New York Police Department Drop Almost 25 Percent

New York cops may have paid attention to police commissioner Ray Kelly's September directive to stop arresting low-level marijuana offenders, after all.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

After the order, the NYPD made 27,492 arrests for possession of marijuana in the fifth degree between Oct. 1 and May 31—24.4% fewer than the eight preceding months, the NYPD said.

From Jan. 1, 2011, to Aug. 31, there had been 36,370 small-amount marijuana arrests, putting the NYPD on target to top 54,000 for the year and shatter a record of 51,267 set in 2000 under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. There were more than 50,000 such arrests in 2011, the second most ever.

Queens College professor Harry Levine is skeptical of the numbers, however. For example, if you compare the statistics of the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, the number of marijuana arrests has only dropped 12.7 percent.

Under the current law, possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana shouldn't result in arrest unless it's "burning or in public view." The NYPD, however, will often ask the hundreds of thousands they stop on the streets each year (most of whom are black or Latino) to empty their pockets. When the marijuana comes out of the pocket, it becomes "in public view," and they can make an arrest.

There are more arrests for low-level marijuana offenses than any other crime in New York City. According to the Associated Press, marijuana arrests in New York account for one out of every seven cases in the city's criminal courts. In 2010, the city spent $75 million to put pot-smokers behind bars.

Marijuana arrests have continued to increase over the last 7 years. 80 percent of those arrested were black or Latino.

87 percent of those stopped by the NYPD in 2011 were black or Latino.

Kelly's September memo to cops-- which read in part, "A crime will not be charged to an individual who is requested or compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marijuana"-- got the Albany treatment this week, with Governor Andrew Cuomo proposing legislation Monday to codify Kelly's directive into law.

Under Cuomo's proposal, low-level marijuana offenses would be punishable by a fine. Public pot-smoking however, would still be a crime. Cuomo says the plan would help decrease the number of blacks and Latinos behind bars.

Surprisingly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, otherwise a staunch defender of anything stop-and-frisk-related, supports Cuomo's proposal, believing the governor's plan to "strikes the right balance."

Bloomberg also conceded Tuesday that NYPD stop-and-frisks do not cut down on city shootings. "There are still too many guns,” he said, according to The New York Daily News. “[Stop-and-frisk] is not a panacea for everything.”

The mayor also credited stop and frisk, however, with the city's declining murder rate.