New York City has been relatively slow to change when it comes to cannabis laws, but recent activity from the mayor’s office could be shaking things up. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to make potentially significant alterations to how the city enforces weed laws — and, unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy about it. In particular, the NYPD Sergeants Union is criticizing the mayor’s orders against cannabis arrests.
NYPD Pushes Back Against Mayor
The back-and-forth between de Blasio and NYPD leaders arises out of recent developments in NYC’s gradually-evolving approach to cannabis laws.
Last week, Mayor de Blasio announced that the city will create a new task force to prepare it for legalization. According to NY Daily News, the task force will have 30 days to review the NYC’s current practices regarding cannabis law enforcement. It will then make recommendations for ways to improve those practices.
But that’s not all. Mayor de Blasio went a step further. He directed the NYPD to stop arresting people caught smoking weed in public.
This change is the one that seems to be generating the most controversy. So far, the most outspoken critic is Ed Mullins, President of the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association.
Yesterday, he told the Wall Street Journal that the new change could put officers “in positions of conflict.” Mullins argued that such conflicts could arise if residents called cops to crack down on public weed-smoking, but then were not allowed to arrest offenders.
“You can’t just circumvent the law,” Mullins said. “If you want to not have enforcement of arrests, then you need to change the law.”
This isn’t the first time Mayor de Blasio has tried to change New York City’s approach to cannabis law. In previous years, he instructed NYPD to stop arresting people caught with small amounts of marijuana. In response, officers began writing simple summonses instead of issuing arrests.
Since going into effect, that change has led to a 40 percent drop in marijuana arrests. But data from recent years reveal ongoing problems. In particular, the city has seen persistent racial disparities in the marijuana-related arrests that are still being made. NYPD reportedly arrested 17,500 people for marijuana last year. A full 86 percent of those arrested were black and Latinx.
“The racial disparities have not changed one bit, and arrests are still too common in communities of color,” Councilman Donovan Richards said earlier this year. “If the administration is serious about changing this disparity, we’re not seeing it.”
Now, it seems that Mayor de Blasio may be taking Richards up on his challenge. The mayor’s office indicated that his latest order to stop arresting people for smoking weed is in large part intended to address these racial disparities.
Additionally, de Blasio has indicated that the change is part of a larger effort to prepare the city for legalization. Although de Blasio has voiced opposition to legalization, he now believes it will happen sooner or later.
In any case, the newest change will not go into effect until the end of the summer. It remains to be seen if the tensions between de Blasio and NYPD leaders like Mullins will intensify in the meantime.