A new internal operations memo from New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly orders officers to stop arresting people carrying small amounts of marijuana, as long as it’s not out in the open. Under New York law, pot possession up to 25 grams is a criminal offense only if it is being burned or in plain view; whereas, if the drug is concealed, the violation is simply a ticketable offense. Kelly’s note this week reminds officers that if they take out the drugs during a search or demand that someone empty their pockets, it should not result in an arrest.
Under the NYPD’s system of stop-and-frisks, which occur overwhelmingly in poorer neighborhoods, some 85 percent of marijuana arrests are blacks and Latinos, despite studies that show young whites smoke more — a fact that has not escaped the attention of the media. The new NYPD memo, titled “Charging Standards for Possession of Marihuana in a Public Place Open to Public View,” acknowledges the attention being paid to the skewed statistics and dubious legality of the stop-and-frisk searches: “Questions have been raised about the processing of certain marihuana arrests,” it reads. Almost as troubling as the racial slant and constitutionality questions is the NYPD’s insistence on spelling it “marihuana.”