Law enforcement officials in New York City are poised to stop arresting low-level marijuana offenders and replace such punishment with a written ticket and court summons. This policy change is an effort to reduce the annual arresting of thousands of New Yorkers each year for marijuana violations, which affect minority groups at a grossly disproportionate rate.
“We don’t want to saddle someone who made one small mistake with something that will follow them all their lives,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, who believes the change will reduce the likelihood of an arrest or misdemeanor marijuana offense following an individual through life and hindering daily processes such as applying for housing or a job. “A summons will not affect their future,” he said. “An arrest could.”
According to the New York Times, the change goes into effect November 19 and will only apply to cases involving 25 grams or less of cannabis.
The exact details of the policy change are yet unclear, but what is known is that it will come down to the involved officer’s judgment whether to ticket or arrest an individual for marijuana possession. Additionally, someone caught in the act of smoking marijuana is still subject to arrest, and will be handcuffed and brought to the station house for fingerprinting and a mugshot. Some specifics of the law are still to be discussed in City Hall, such as whether or not a criminal record could result from receiving a court summons for marijuana.
Earlier this year, the new Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, said he would stop prosecuting individuals caught up in the justice system because of low-level marijuana possession. Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, however, initially disagreed with Thompson’s move, and vowed to continue making such arrests.
The upcoming policy changes indicate a possible change of heart, but Mr. Thompson is worried the new policy could potentially harm the very people it’s meant to protect, because a court summons doesn’t currently warrant the involvement of a prosecutor.
“In order to give the public confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system, these cases should be subject to prosecutorial review,” Thompson said. “By allowing these cases to avoid early review, by issuing a summons, there is a serious concern that many summonses will be issued without the safeguards currently in place. These cases will move forward even when due process violations might have occurred.”
Photo Credit: Jason Lawrence
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