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NYPD Ordered to Stop Marijuana Possession Arrests

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #702)

New York City may soon shed its infamous reputation as the pot bust capital of the world. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued an internal order on September 19 to the NYPD telling officers they can no longer arrest people for marijuana possession in public view if the marijuana was not in public view before officers either searched the person and produced it or the person produced it after an officer's demand that he empty his pockets.

NYC City Hall
Although New York state has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the NYPD has made a practice of stopping people -- mainly young people of color -- on the streets, searching them or demanding they empty their pockets, then charging them with possession in public view. Unlike simple pot possession, which is only a ticketable offense, possession in public view is an arrestable offense that typically results in a day-long stay in jail before the defendant can appear before a judge.

New York City and the NYPD have come under increasingly heat over the practice, which has resulted in tens of thousands of marijuana in public view arrests each year in recent years. The policy began under the administration of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but has continued under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who famously admitted having smoked pot and enjoying it.

Both city council members and state representatives have recently taken up the call to end the practice. A bipartisan bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view was recently introduced in Albany.

"Questions have been raised about the processing of certain marihuana arrests," Kelly wrote in the internal order delivered to commanders this week. "At issue is whether the circumstances under which uniformed members of the service recover small amounts of marihuana ... from subjects in a public place support the charge of Criminal Possession of Marihuana in the Fifth Degree.

"The specific circumstances in question include occasions when the officers recover marihuana pursuant to a search of subject's person or upon direction to the subject to surrender the contents of his/her pockets or other closed container. A crime will not be charged to an individual who is compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marijuana. Such circumstances may constitute a violation of [the decriminalization statute], not [the possession in public view statute], a Class B misdemeanor.

"To support a charge [under the possession in public view statute], the public display of marijuana must be an activity taken under the suspect's own volition. Thus, uniformed members of the service may not charge the individual with [violation of the possession in public view statute], if the marihuana recovered was displayed to the public view at the officer's discretion."

So will New York City marijuana arrest numbers now plummet?

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anon (not verified)

Marijuana is a completely natural plant, and so is THC, the substance that is produced by the plant and gives the "high" effects. Meth is NOT natural, and neither are the other hard drugs that take peoples personality away. Marijuana is illegal, and it has been said to help with anything from a stomach ache to dealing with cancer, without ANY side-effects, where as people take pills and get addicted and can sometimes even overdose. Bye the time I die,I KNOW marijuana will be legalized, whose with me?
Sat, 09/24/2011 - 7:35pm Permalink
fhallock (not verified)

In reply to by Anon (not verified)

I stand fully for the decriminalization of cannabis.  I have been an activist for the liberation of marijuana and hemp for a few decades.  At We the People (!/petition/legalize-and-regulate-marijuana-manner-similar-alcohol/y8l45gb1)  you can sign a petition concerning the effort to legalize and regulate marijuana.

Sun, 09/25/2011 - 7:39pm Permalink
Giordano (not verified)

The NAACP announced it will launch its campaign against prohibition in October, 2011.  NYC would look pretty silly if they were still playing out their racist nonsense at the very time the NAACP could use it as their best example to illustrate their point.

Never fear, the rest of the country, including parts of California, still pursue racist drug enforcement policies because they believe no one will ever notice their dirty little schemes.  They’re delusional, of course.  They’ve made themselves sitting ducks, all casually waiting for a very rude awakening as potential victims of a nasty populist revolt.


Sun, 09/25/2011 - 1:49am Permalink
Greg Whitaker (not verified)

I'm sad to say that the Petition to Grant a Full Pardon to all those arrested for marijuana only related offenses isn't getting the attention it deserves.  While I've seen a dramatic flux of people rushing to sign the Regulate and Tax in a Manner similar to Alcohol petition (and am very happy to see the number rise greatly every time I look in on it), I'd like to see more people standing up for the folks who have put there lives and liberty on the line for the cause. After all, SOMEONE HAD TO GROW THAT BEAUTIFUL HERB YOU'RE ENJOYING AND NOW THEY NEED US.  To those of you who have taken the time to add your name, I'm very grateful.  Thank you for understanding you have a civic duty and doing that duty in true patriotic fashion.  For those of you still sitting on your hands I'd like to remind you that NEVER in the history of our nation has it been so SIMPLE and EASY to make your voice heard.  So stand up and take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.


Please take a moment to follow this link and sign the petition which requests that all those arrested for marijuana only related offenses to be granted a full pardon. In addition to releasing those currently incarcerated, this would also reinstate the rights lost by those with previous convictions, such as the right to vote. Here's the link:  Thanks for your support.


In addition, there is also a petition on the site which calls to Allow Industrial Hemp to AGAIN be grown in the U.S.  This, too, is a very important issue within the legalization movement and approaches the subject from a perspective entirely separate from the medical/recreational aspect.  Please also take a moment to add your name to show your support.


Again, thank you for standing up and doing your part.  After all, a government of the people, for the people, and by the people only works if the people work it.  Signing a petition is a dramatic far cry from the long marches and bloody battles our ancestors had to endure to gain the freedoms we (used to) enjoy.  If you're too lazy to exert such little effort for liberty then you don't deserve it!

Sun, 09/25/2011 - 5:56am Permalink
Galen (not verified)

In reply to by Greg Whitaker (not verified)

The industrial use of hemp is why pot was criminalized in the first place. It has never had anything whatsoever to do with actual marijuana other than as an excuse for the textile companies and cotton growers to blackball their top competition. If I remember right, the DuPont corporation was behind that.
Mon, 09/26/2011 - 9:26pm Permalink
Carmen Brown (not verified)

This is a moment to remember, another new leash on the furious dog. Enough leashes and we'll put the canine in its pen, respectfully.


But today...Hoo-Rah! Hip Hip hoo-Ray!

Mon, 09/26/2011 - 2:22pm Permalink

Somewhat heartening, but given this statement, "A crime will not be charged to an individual who is compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marijuana." I would like to see that logic mandatory throughout the system. Stop government spamming us with offers to buy medications online, stop setting up people in other entrapment schemes.

Philip asks the all important question at the end, will this make a difference? I have a feeling many of these episodes will end up being a "he said, she said" situation.

Such an infuriating tragedy the people who pretend they are stopping "Moral Decay" are the very ones causing the most! This was even pointed out back in the early 1970s in the awesome book by Consumer Reports, Licit and Illicit Drugs, Part 10, Chapter 69 - Policy issues and recommendations.

(6) Consumers Union recommends, pending legalization of marijuana, that marijuana possession and sharing be immediately made civil violations rather than criminal acts. Including marijuana offenses under the criminal law has two major adverse effects on marijuana smokers, even if there is no imprisonment. First, a criminal record bars an individual from government employment and from a wide variety of other jobs and activities. Second, engaging in criminal behavior has a subtle but significant effect on the self-image of individuals. Because they are criminals under the law, they begin to think of themselves as criminals. Lacking respect for the marijuana laws, they may lose respect for other laws as well. Taking marijuana possession and sharing offenses out of the criminal law altogether will contribute to respect for law.

(7) Consumers Union recommends that those now serving prison terms for possession of or sharing marijuana be set free, and that such marijuana offenses be expunged from all legal records. It is hard to think of a more dramatic way to demonstrate this country's earnest desire to bridge the generation gap and to right grievous miscarriages of justice. Respect for law will surely increase.

Mon, 09/26/2011 - 3:32pm Permalink
Wade S (not verified)

I just posted this comment at the latest Drug War Chronicle entry, but I thought this article might be more apt.  I'll repost just this once and leave it be--I don't want to overstay my welcome . . .

Readers of Stop the Drug War and Drug War Chronicle are now aware of the various marijuana legalization petitions at the White House We the People site.  Below is a related petition.  It isn't necessarily endorsed by Drug War Chronicle, but I'm hoping I'll be able to use the comments section to help get the word out.

Eliminate or Reform Departments whose Officers are Required by Law to Lie to the American People.

This one isn't yet publicly visible or searchable at the site because it hasn't passed the 150 signature threshold. It's almost there. Help out if you find it worthy of signing, and please spread the word.

This petition looks to pressure President Obama from another angle than "legalize marijuana." This one looks to inform people about the undue power the ONDCP has in trying to stymie any legalization efforts of a Schedule I substance, regardless of what science shows. That's just wrong. 

Hopefully this petition will appeal to people who may not specifically support MJ legalization but are fed up with corrupt and arrogant government . The MJ legalization petitions are going heroic--this one aims to be their sidekick. 

Thank you for your time. 

Mon, 09/26/2011 - 5:51pm Permalink

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