On a quest to fulfill his promise to end unnecessary arrests and racial disparity in marijuana enforcement, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has issued a new request to the city’s police: Stop arresting people for smoking marijuana in public.
Over the weekend, De Blasio told the New York City Police Department to issue summonses to pot smokers who were caught lighting up in public spaces instead of arresting them, reported CNN.
About 17,880 people were arrested in the city last year for low-level marijuana possession, including smoking in public. A startling 86 percent of those arrested were people of color.
As The Guardian noted, De Blasio’s no-arrest recommendation won’t have an immediate impact on NYPD policy but is expected to influence a 30-day review of marijuana enforcement procedures currently underway at the NYPD. Phil Walzak, the department’s deputy commissioner of public information, told CNN that the issue is “certainly part of the review.”
“The working group is reviewing possession and public smoking of marijuana to ensure enforcement is consistent with the values of fairness and trust, while also promoting public safety and addressing community concerns,” Walzak said.
De Blasio’s request marks the latest milestone in what observers have described as a striking shift in marijuana enforcement policy in New York City ― one sparked by a growing acknowledgment of the troubling racial gap in weed-related arrests. City-wide, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white people over the past three years, according to a New York Times analysis published last week. In Manhattan, the racial gap was even more striking; black people were arrested on marijuana charges at 15 times the rate of white people.
Last week, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. pledged to stop prosecuting marijuana possession or smoking cases.
“The dual mission of the Manhattan D.A.’s Office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system,” Vance said in a press release announcing the policy change. “The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals.”
A day later, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said his office planned to reduce prosecution of low-level marijuana cases as well.
The policy shift also appears to be spurred by an expectation of impending legalization. De Blasio, one of the few New York politicians who has voiced opposition to legalizing weed, announced that he will put together a task force to prepare the city for when marijuana is legalized. De Blasio said Monday that it’s “likely inevitable” that New York state will legalize the drug.