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NYPD to issue summons instead of arrests for small amounts of pot

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday the NYPD will stop arresting most people in New York found with less than 25 grams of marijuana.

Historically, the department has arrested those who possessed small amounts of marijuana on misdemeanor charges of criminal possession of marijuana (fifth degree). When the new policy goes into effect on Nov. 19, those found with less than 25 grams will receive a summons to appear in court for the lesser violation of unlawful possession of marijuana, and have their drugs seized.

At a Monday afternoon press conference, both Bratton and de Blasio made it clear they do not support the legalization of marijuana. Bratton said issuing summons frees up his officers to pursue higher-level drug offenses.

“This is the policy of the New York City Police Department,” Bratton said. “I have made a decision based on extensive discussion with my leadership team that this is beneficial to the department, beneficial, I think, to some citizens of this city who would be arrested.”

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De Blasio said the new policy will “help reduce unnecessary arrest for minor marijuana possession,” which often has “disastrous consequences” in terms of finding housing and employment and securing student loans, especially in black and Latino communities.

“I came into office with a pledge to incessantly work to heal some of the wounds of the past, and create a strong bond, an even stronger bond, between the police and community,” de Blasio said.

There are exceptions. Individuals found with 25 grams of marijuana or less -- valued at $300 on the streets -- but who hold a warrant, do not have identification, are committing another offense or who are wanted for questioning, will be arrested. Bratton said anyone found smoking marijuana will continue to be arrested.

Those who receive a summons will still have to appear in court, usually several weeks after the incident, and are subject to a $100 fine on the first offense; $250 on the second within three years.

Bratton said marijuana arrests are down 3 percent this year, with 24,828 arrests in 2013, and 24,081 as of Nov. 9. Marijuana phone call complaints are up 30 percent, and Bratton said the “vast majority” of the calls placed to 911 and 311 are coming from the city’s “poor” and “minority” neighborhoods.

In July, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced he would stop prosecuting marijuana misdemeanors for first-time offenders.

Outside One Police Headquarters, several members of Occupy Weed Street, who were first informed of the press conference by Metro, smoked marijuana from a one-hitter. Harrison Tesoura Schultz, an organizer, said “this is obviously an attempt to preserve prohibition, the drug war and the prison industrial complex, while at the same time appeasing the communities that voted him (de Blasio) in.”

“Our demands are no more stops, no more fines, no more tickets, no more arrests, no more summons for distribution, possession or cultivation of cannabis,” Schultz said.

Waiting outside of police headquarters were about eight members of Drug Policy Alliance. Kassandra Frederique, a policy manager, said minorities are going to continued to be targeted for marijuana offenses, and will continue to receive summons, if they are not arrested.

“These same communities ... need resources, and targeted law enforcement, stop and frisks and unlawful marijuana arrests are not going to help,” Frederique said.

 
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