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New York City's New Marijuana Policy Began Nov. 19

New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton uses a bag of oregano to explain how much marijuana you can possess (25 grams) without being arrested in New York, starting Nov. 19. (NY Daily News photo)

The long fight to end New York's discriminatory and abusive marijuana-arrest crusade is finally over. Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced a new decrim policy went into effect Nov. 19.

Right on the heals of the latest report issued by Harry Levine's Marijuana Arrest Project, which cited arrest figures similar to last year despite the new Mayor's campaign promise to curtail the city's 20-year crusade against cannabis users, de Blasio and Bratton finally responded to building pressure from drug reformers and civil rights activists, including Al Sharpton, who hailed the move, saying: “I feel that the police ought to concentrate on things of importance rather than things that are now being legalized in many places around the country."

So far this year there have been 24,838 arrests in New York City for marijuana possession in so-called "public view," which is a slight 3% decline from last year under Mayor Bloomberg, who continued Mayor Giuliani's policy of arresting citizens for small amounts of marijuana, despite the 1977 state law that decriminalized having 25 grams or less. But the law also has a misdemeanor provision for "in public view" possession, which means smoking, the smell of pot or it literally being out of your pocket - the cause of most arrests that follow a stop and frisk search. More than 80% of the arrestees have been black and Hispanic.

The crusade peaked in 2000 and again in 2010 and 2011 with more than 50,000 arrests.

Twenty years ago, less than 2,000 people were arrested for marijuana in a single year in New York City. That should be the goal for 2015. No marijuana arrests would be even better.

During his mayoral campaign, de Blasio called the arrests for marijuana "ridiculous." But with no major reduction in arrests during his first 10 months in office, critics started to wonder whether the mayor had forgotten his promise. At yesterday's press conference, de Blasio maintained, "Too many New Yorkers without any prior convictions have been arrested for low-level marijuana possession. Blacks and Latino communities have been disproportionately affected.”

Bratton was less conciliatory, noting that “it’s still against the law. I’m not giving out get-out-of-jail-for-free cards.”

But the fact is marijuana possession of less than 25 grams will now be treated as a summons. If caught, you'll receive a ticket and have to make a court appearance. The fine is $100. For a second offense, the fine is $250. If you don't pay the summons, a warrant can be issued. Smoking in public remains a misdemeanor, subject to possible arrest.

Earlier this year Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson stopped prosecuting marijuana arrests. His counterpart in Staten Island, Daniel Donovan, contends, “This should free up police manpower to pursue cases of greater magnitude while relieving some of the congestion in the courts.”

But don't expect marijuana to be legally sold in stores in the city anytime soon. At least if the Mayor and Police Commish have their way. "I am not supportive of legalization of marijuana and I don't anticipate that I will be ever in support of it," Bratton reiterated, while de Blasio stated awkwardly, "I'm not comfortable with the notion of legalization. Any substance that alters your consciousness is a potential danger, especially when you're driving."

Earlier in the week, two more states (Oregon and Alaska) voted to legalize pot as did Washington, DC. In September, Philadelphia took the crime out of weed. Now the decrim train is rolling through the Big Apple.

Twenty years ago, less than 2,000 people were arrested in New York for marijuana in a single year. That should be the goal for 2015. No marijuana arrests would be even better. Whatever the numbers, this is a big step towards restoring sanity in New York City.

Let's hear it for all those who worked so hard to change this wretched policy, starting with Queens College Prof. Harry Levine, who's been peppering the public, police and politicans with arrest figures for the last 15 years. The Drug Polciy Alliance took up the cause. Between Levine and the DPA, they did the most to urge City Hall to curtial the crusade. Finally, a supportive mayor was elected. De Blasio took a while to get around to this, but now that he has, it was worth the wait.

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf, co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness, and the former editor of High Times.