The NYPD has long had a reputation for overzealously pursuing marijuana arrests – particularly if the possessor of said marijuana happens to be young and black or Latino. NYC arrests more people for marijuana possession than any other city in the world and 90 percent of those arrested are black or Latino.

Recently public display of marijuana became a news item as forward thinking city council members attempted to close a loophole in NYC law by reclassifying “the public display of small amounts of marijuana as a violation.”

You see, possession of less than 25 grams of pot in New York a civil violation punishable by a fine (not to exceed $100). It shouldn’t even lead to fingerprinting. However, when marijuana is not concealed it becomes a far more serious criminal offense – even if the drug is only brought into the open at the request of an officer.

Fortunately, NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued an internal order Monday stating that officers cannot arrest suspects for possession of marijuana in public view if the marijuana came into public view because of an officer’s intervention.

According to the mandate, in order to support the criminal offense, “the public display of marihuana must be an activity undertaken of the subject’s own volition. Thus, uniformed members of the service lawfully exercising their police powers during a stop may not charge the individual [with the criminal offense] if the marihuana recovered was disclosed to public view at an officer’s direction.”

While a policy change that has the potential to stem the city’s racially inequitable marijuana arrests should be applauded (and a great deal of credit must go to Councilman Jumaane Williams and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries for applying the pressure), it seems surreal that so many lives have been damaged and money and man-hours wasted because the NYPD had long refused to make a common sense adjustment to procedure.

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