Soon Marijuana May Lead to Ticket, Not Arrest, in New York

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Photo: Andres Stapf/Corbis

After campaigning on a promise to reform stop-and-frisk, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to launch his most significant effort to address the issues raised by the policy. Law-enforcement officials tell the New York Times that soon the NYPD may issue tickets for low-level marijuana possession rather than making arrests. Under the de Blasio administration’s planned changes to the city’s marijuana policy, those caught with a small amount of weed would be issued a court summons, but avoid a trip to the police station. The shift could have a huge impact in black and Latino communities, as a recent study found those groups represented 86 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in the city this year.

The de Blasio administration is still working out the details, such as how much weed one could possess without triggering an arrest, and some are already unhappy with the proposed change. Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who announced this year that he would stop prosecuting small-scale marijuana possession cases, said that telling people to show up in a court room without arresting them may actually be worse for minorities.

In order to give the public confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system, these cases should be subject to prosecutorial review,” Thompson explained. “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.”

In other words, don’t expect the debate about how NYPD officers should proceed when they catch someone with a joint to be resolved anytime soon.