A question about marijuana legalization by Occupy Weed Street activist Lorna Shannon at this morning's CityLaw breakfast prompted New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to relate a story about how he stopped a young woman while she smoked a joint on, of all places, Wall Street earlier this week.
'The streets were packed with people, as they always are on Wall Street, and all of a sudden, there it is – that smell. I said, ‘What the hell? It’s 8:30 on Wall Street.’ I’m looking around and we come up to a red light, a pedestrian light that you can’t cross. Directly in front of me is this young woman, happily puffing away. She’s got her ear phones in and a school bag, on her way to one of the local schools. And so, my security officer came up on one side. I came up on the other and tapped her on the shoulder and she looked over. I wish I had a photograph of that face because she instantly recognized me. We politely removed the marijuana, threw it into the local sewer and suggested that she might have a better academic day without the influence of [pot]. Only in New York.'
Shannon tells CelebStoner: "I was surprised we got him to tell that story and urge discretion for arresting cops, saying it's a low priority, which is huge for him to say. But talk is cheap, and no one should be getting arrested for using cannabis. I do wonder the color of the woman's skin in his story of not arresting the woman smoking weed on Wall Street. I wonder if he will address the racial disparity in his police force's 'discretion' in enforcing the 'new' so-called more relaxed arresting and summons policy."
She adds: "Harrison Schuitz and I were approached personally by a federal reserve cop near Wall Street last week for smoking pot in public and he aggressively yelled that next time he would lock us up, and then he called the NYPD who were cool but nonetheless, this is an inconsistent stance for the commissioner, however positive yet nuanced of a statement in the right direction.
'His mindset is still completely archaic relying on scientifically debunked theories like Broken Windows policing and gateway drug theory.'
Prior to telling the story about accosting the woman on Wall Street, Bratton commented: "We have been significantly reforming over the last two years our marijuana-related enforcement policies to the extent that we no longer seek to arrest for the possession of the drug. If you’re smoking it in public we will potentially arrest you, but we encourage officers to use the scale they are authorized to use – warning, admonition, summons, arrest if necessary. The numbers of summons and arrests in the city are down dramatically from what they were. I have long been a strong advocate of controlled use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
'I am a strong opponent of legalization of marijuana as I believe strongly that it is a gateway drug. We have been more liberal, but the debate continues. It's a good debate to have.'
Watch the entire Q&A session here. Cue to the 57-minute mark.
Under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg from 1994-2013, marijuana arrests skyrocketed in New York to more than 50,000 per year. That number has been cut in half. But as Shannon and her Occupy Weed Street cohorts would say, that's not good enough. They're calling for marijuana arrests to be the NYPD's lowest priority.