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NYPD to Obey Law

Submitted by David Borden on

In case you haven't seen our story from last Friday about the New York City Police Department's decision to have its police officers to start obeying the state's decades-old marijuana decriminalization law -- or WNYC's report, which broke the story before any reformers had heard about it, complete with a copy of Commissioner Ray Kelly's order -- check it out. There's also a great set of reports by the Village Voice. It is huge news and an unexpectedly swift victory, if it's for real.

NYC City Hall
The basic outline of what's happened in the city is that New York State in the 1970s made possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana a ticketable "violation," rather than a misdemeanor as before, unless the marijuana was in "public view." But in 1986, under the Rudy Giuliani administration, and continuing under Mayor Bloomberg, police began to violate the law -- constantly, every day -- by telling people to empty their pockets or take out their marijuana, which had not been in public view, and then arresting people for the public view offense which police themselves had manufactured. Marijuana possession arrests went up by a factor of ten, almost all of the arrestees African American or Latino.

The New York Times called today for the US Dept. of Justice and New York lawmakers to investigate the corrupt practice that has allowed this to happen to upwards of half a million people since then. As the Times aptly commented, Kelly's memo is "too little, too late."

A press conference in front of NYPD headquarters at 1:30pm this afternoon with lawmakers and advocates will commend the change in policy and call for passage of a bill currently in the legislature to repeal the possession in open view offense and thereby secure this change in policy for the future. [Update: Post-rally press release here.]

I have an additional suggestion: Expunge all marijuana possession convictions that resulted from arrests made in New York City between 1996 and today. Most of them appear to have been made on false pretenses, but there's no practical way to review all of them to find the relatively few that were not. Criminal convictions, even for misdemeanor drug possession, can be a lifetime barrier to employment, college aid, professional licenses, all manner of problems. They can also lead to harsher treatment by the system for other future trouble that might otherwise be considered more minor, a part of the so-called "prison pipeline." It's not over when the jail time is completed or the fine paid, and half a million people in New York City are victims in this way of this persistent NYPD misconduct.

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