Andrew Cuomo announced this week a plan to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view. We urge New York lawmakers to quickly approve it and here’s why:
Selling and using drugs is an extremely serious issue and most of our families do everything in their power to make sure their children stay away from drugs. But in reality, every year, way too many Hispanic youths are put through the criminal justice system just for carrying small amounts of marijuana. Once they’re processed, they have a permanent criminal record that prevents them from accessing student aid, housing and even potential jobs.
The problem is made more complex by the fact that police officers can stop anyone they want and search them for no apparent reason. Under the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, officers can only stop and frisk someone when they reasonably suspect them of doing something wrong. Yet, the sheer number of testimonials from Latino men and women who have been unfairly stopped and searched on the street shows that some officers are letting prejudice and stereotypes influence them when deciding who to stop.
The damage resulting from the abuse of this policy goes way beyond repeated scrutiny and targeting.
The possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana stopped being a crime in New York more than 30 years ago. The law decriminalized it to allow the courts to focus on grave crimes. But there’s a loophole in the current law: public possession of the drug is still a misdemeanor punishable by three months in jail and fines up to $500.
When police officers stop people on the street and then search them and ask them to empty their pockets, the marijuana ends up being in “public view.” This makes it a crime and results in a criminal record.
In 2011 alone, 50,000 people were arrested in the city for having marijuana supposedly in public view. The majority were Latinos and African Americans, and 12,000 between ages 16 to 19, most without criminalbackgrounds, but who now have a record. Cuomo’s plan-under which, public consumption of the drug remains a crime- will break unnecessary tracks into the criminal justice system. The proposal won’t solve the injustices and violations of “stop and frisk,” a policy the NYPD has abused for more than a decade. However, it should push Major Bloomberg -who expressed support for Cuomo’s plan- to find a fair way to enforce the law.