NEW YORK CITY: People in New York carrying only a small amount of marijuana will not be arrested, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday (Tuesday in Manila), adding to a growing debate in the United States over pot.
Starting November 19, anyone carrying less than 25 grams (0.9 ounces) of pot in New York will instead likely be fined up to $100.
“We’ve seen a great reduction in unnecessary stops [by police]. Today is another important step,” de Blasio told a press conference, flanked by New York police chief Bill Bratton.
“Too many New Yorkers without any prior convictions have been arrested for low-level marijuana possession,” added de Blasio, whose daughter Chiara last year revealed in a YouTube video that she had smoked while in college.
De Blasio said the relaxation in policy was particularly aimed at young people who would no longer have a criminal record for the rest of their lives because of an “error.”
“This is part of a long-term effort to make us safer,” he added.
Bratton said that possession of less than 25 grams would be considered “a violation, not a crime.”
But he warned that selling marijuana or smoking it in public would result in arrest.
“Make no mistake, marijuana is still illegal in New York City,” Bratton said.
“People smoking marijuana in public will continue to be arrested,” he said.
“But possession of small amounts, with certain exceptions, is not considered a high enough level of offense to merit the time and resources the department spends when arresting people, or the potential associated consequences of criminal justice involvement for the arrestees,” Bratton added.
Proponents of a more relaxed policy on small amounts of marijuana possession say it will free police up to spend more time on serious crime.
But opponents say the drug causes long-term psychological damage, especially in people who used it in their youth.
Alaska, Oregon and the US capital Washington voted to legalize marijuana last week—a new high for the marijuana lobby, two years after two western states—Colorado and Washington—led the way in approving cannabis for recreational use.
According to the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, citing US government data, young white people use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks or Latinos.
But in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles police arrest blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the rate of whites, it says.
Last year, New York police arrested more than 28,000 people for marijuana possession and 2014 arrests were at a similar pace, The New York Times said, citing Harry Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College who is a director of the Marijuana Arrest Research Project.