After more than 400,000 marijuana arrests in New York during his 11 years as Mayor, Michael Bloomberg has announced that the arrests will continue but bustees won't have to spend the night in jail. That's way too little and way too late.
Despite marijuana being decriminalized in New York State since 1977, increasing numbers of city residents have been arrested for pot since Mayor Rudolph Guiliani's second term in office starting in 1998. In Giuliani's first year as mayor there were 3,018 marijuana arrests. By 2000, that total had skyrocketed to 50,835. Bloomberg picked up where Giuliani left off, allowing NYPD to arrest New Yorkers in droves for "in public view" misdemeanor violations. It's part of the decrim law, just no one until Giuliani thought to take advantage of this gaping loophole
Bloomberg joins Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who's called for an end to the "in public view" (or open view) arrests that mostly stem from stop and frisks, but also includes public smoking. "Commissioner Kelly and I support Governor Cuomo’s proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor and we’ll work to help him pass it this year. But we won’t wait for that to happen," Bloomberg said in his State of the City address.
"Right now, those arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana are often held in custody overnight. We’re changing that. Effective next month, anyone presenting an ID and clearing a warrant check will be released directly from the precinct with a desk appearance ticket to return to court. It’s consistent with the law, it’s the right thing to do and it will allow us to target police resources where they’re needed most."
So people will still be arrested for marijuana in New York, they just won't have to spend the night in jail, unless they have a warrant or a prior on their record. That's just not good enough. Recently, a friend of mine was busted in Manhattan at 6 pm. He was taken to a precinct where he shivered in a dingy cell for 10 hours before his release with a DAT (desk appearance ticket). Presumably, this policy of holding (and degrading) people will not end. It should. What took the police so release my friend, whose record was clean?
It's incredible what's happened in New York over the years. In 1978, when Ed Koch (who recently passed away) was mayor, there were a grand total of 102 marijuana arrests in New York City. You practically had to blow smoke in a cop's face to get busted for weed in the Baked Apple back then. Then came Giuliani and his reign of terror when marijuana was lumped in with other "quality-of-life" crimes (bumming money, wiping windshields, loitering). A former prosecutor and drug warrior, Giuiiani's pot policy was despicable, but predictable. The came Bloomberg, a business tycoon and moderate Republican. Early in his first team, he told New York magazine that he'd smoked marijuana and "enjoyed it." NORML jumped on the admission with a cheeky billboard campaign on city buses (see above). It didn't help. Pot arrests went down after 9/11 but have risen consistenly until finally declining again to 39,000 in 2012. That's still way too many even if it's 20% less than in 2011.
New York marijuana users have suffered for too long. It will likely take tweaking the law, electing a new mayor (this is Bloomberg's last year in office) and appointing a new police chief (Ray Kelly, and before him Bernard Kerick, who's currently in jail for corruption and tax fraud, presided over these mass arrests) for the arrests crusade to truly end.