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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: Change of heart?
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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg:
Change of heart?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday announced that people arrested for small amounts of marijuana in the Big Apple will no longer have to spend a night in jail.

The mayor’s announcement comes after years of controversy during which New York City acquired the unsavory reputation of being one of the worse places in the U.S. to get busted for weed.

State legislators had reduced marijuana penalties with a decriminalization law back in the 1970s, but pot-hating NYPD cops quickly found a devious way around that: They’d ask unwitting suspects to “take the pot out of your pockets” and, when they did, bust them for “public display” and throw them in jail. The NYPD boys in blue showed themselves, over and over, to be willing to lie, cheat, and scam to arrest marijuana smokers.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, in the last decade since Bloomberg became mayor, the NYPD has made more than 400,000 lowest level pot arrests costing $600 million. The arrests are overwhelmingly (nearly 350,000) of young black and Latino men, despite the fact that young whites use pot at higher rates than either.

Mayor Bloomberg’s draconian pot policies did plenty of damage before Thursday’s change of heart.

The NYPD, under Bloomberg’s “leadership,” made more marijuana arrests from 2007 to 2011 (227,093) than in the 24 years from 1978 through 2001 (226,861) — that is to say, more than under Mayors Giuliani, Dinkins, and Koch combined, the DPA reports.

The new measure, taking effect in March, was announced during the Mayor’s State of the City speech.

“But we know that there’s more we can do to keep New Yorkers, particularly young men, from ending up with a criminal record. 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.

“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.”

Alfred Carrasquillo, VOCAL-NY: "Quote" [Flickr]
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Alfred Carrasquillo, VOCAL-NY:
“Mayor Bloomberg’s support for marijuana reform is a step in the right direction but does not solve the fundamental problems with NYPD’s policing strategies”
[Vocal-NY/Flickr]

“Mayor Bloomberg stopped defending the indefensible and now recognizes that we cannot afford to criminalize youth of color for carrying small amounts of marijuana,” said Alfredo Carrasquillo, VOCAL-NY‘s civil rights community organizer. “But being ‘consistent with the law’ means more than just issuing DATs instead of putting people in jail.

“Most people targeted for these arrests only produce marijuana in plain view after being illegally searched during stop, question and frisk encounters with police,” Carrasquillo said. “Mayor Bloomberg’s support for marijuana reform is a step in the right direction but does not solve the fundamental problems with NYPD’s policing strategies.”

“We agree with the Mayor that there’s more we can do to keep New Yorkers, especially young people of color, from ending up with a criminal record,” said Kyung Ji Rhee, juvenile justice director with Center for NuLeadership. “For instance, the Mayor can direct Commissioner Kelly to immediately cease and desist NYPD’s broken ‘stop and frisk’ program.

“We must stop these mass arrests and criminalizing people for simply possessing small amounts of marijuana,” Rhee said. “And we can get the police out of our schools to end the ‘schools to prison’ pipeline.”

Kyung Ji Rhee, Center for NuLeadership: "Quote" [New York Council for the Humanities/Flickr]
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Kyung Ji Rhee, Center for NuLeadership:
“We must stop these mass arrests and criminalizing people for simply possessing small amounts of marijuana”
[New York Council for the Humanities/Flickr]

“This new policy is a step in the right direction — and it’s the direct result of the ongoing campaign led by community groups in New York to end this racially biased, unpopular, unjust and expensive arrests,” said gabriel sayegh, New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

“Marijuana possession is the number one arrest in New York Ciuty and with this new policy change, tens of thousands of people, mostly young men of color, will no longer be held in jail overnight for possessing small amounts of marijuana,” sayegh said. [New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last month proposed decriminalizing the possession of under 15 grams of cannabis.]

“But the arrests themselves need to end — period,” sayegh said. “Now the Legislature must act — immediately — to pass Gov. Cuomo’s marijuana decriminalization bill. Every reasonable New Yorker supports the measure. “Reform is long, long overdue,” sayegh said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last month proposed decriminalizing the possession of under 15 grams of cannabis, reports The Huffington Post

 

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