In a memo to its departments, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) clarifies that police officers can no longer arrest individuals for consuming cannabis in public – as long as it’s in an area where tobacco smoking is allowed.
The memo also notes that officers can no longer use the smell of fresh or burnt cannabis as a reason to search a vehicle.
Both of the reforms were included in the cannabis legalization bill signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last week. The memo says that vehicle searches related to cannabis can only be conducted if the officer believes the driver is impaired or if cannabis is being actively consumed in the vehicle by the driver.
Additionally, the NYPD memo says that the “hand to hand exchange of lawful amounts (3 oz or less” of cannabis “without compensation to a person 21 or over is not considered a sale” under the law and, therefore, not a crime – unless the officer sees money exchange hands.
The NYPD also points out that, under the terms of the law, “parolees are permitted” to use cannabis unless the terms of their parole specifically prohibits it.
In the memo, the NYPD describes the laws as creating “sweeping changes to the department’s enforcement of marijuana offenses.” An Innocence Project report from 2018 found that from January to March of that year 93% of people arrested by the NYPD for cannabis possession were Black. Of the 4,081 arrests for criminal possession of cannabis by the department, only 287 of those arrested were white people, compared to 2,006 Black, and 1,621 Latino people. The NYPD once used the controversial stop-and-frisk procedures, which allowed them to stop individuals and force them to empty their pockets. If the person pulled out an illicit substance – such as cannabis – it would be considered ‘in plain view’ and an arrestable offense. The NYPD disbanded a plainclothes unit last year described as the “last chapter” of the stop-and-frisk policy.
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