New York’s new marijuana policy officially went into effect on Wednesday.
Under the new policy, which was initially established in 1977 and reaffirmed in 2011 by then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, individuals carrying up to 25 grams of cannabis will not be subject to arrest for possession, now a non-criminal violation. Instead, officers are urged to write citations and summonses to violators.
While many New Yorkers are rejoicing over the legislation, with 71% of NYC residents polled by Quinnipiac University saying they approve of Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton’s policy, activists involved in cannabis legalization are yet to be convinced of its value after so many false starts.
“We don’t know what it means yet,” said Adam Scavone, Co-Founder of the NY Cannabis Alliance. “We still have 30,000 arrests despite the fact that New York decriminalized marijuana back in 1977.”
“What we hope [the policy] means is that fewer people will be arrested,” added Danny Danko, a member of cannabis legalization nonprofit NORML. “We view it as a step in the right direction.”
A clear motivator for Mayor de Blasio’s update on the policy is the reduction of NYC’s high number of low-level drug arrests, the bulk of which target African-Americans and Latino males in the wake of New York’s Stop-And-Frisk program.
“I don’t think there’s any other city that arrests more of citizens for marijuana than New York,” notes Danko, who sees marijuana as nothing more than “an excuse to get into people’s pockets and get them fingerprinted and into the system.”
Even with the new policy, both Scavone and Danko believe that excessive force and discrimination by officers will be hard to combat.
“Black and Hispanic New Yorkers may have some additional assurance that they will not be thrown up against the wall,” Scavone says, “but I don’t think it’s an iron-clad guarantee against policeman’s conduct. There’s very little we can do about bad cops, which is all the more reason to just take [cannabis] out of the criminal justice system entirely.”
Some states have done just that, with Colorado, California, Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. legalizing the substance.
“It hasn’t caused the sky to fall in [those states],” adds Danko. “It’s clearly succeeding and generating tax revenue and the general public is perceiving that marijuana users are not their enemy and are not the enemy of society in general.”