Many New Yorkers facing low-level marijuana charges will soon be issued summonses instead of being taken to precinct houses in handcuffs, department brass said Monday.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said that the official change to the city's marijuana policy will be issued Tuesday and will take effect Nov. 19. Under the policy change, people caught with less than 25 grams of marijuana on them "may be eligible" to receive a $100 summons in lieu of being arrested.
Bratton said the policy change saves money on overtime and allows officers to focus on fighting other crimes.
Individuals caught burning or smoking cannabis will still be subject to arrest, Bratton said. A person who has an active warrant out for his or her arrest or cannot produce proper identification may also be arrested for minor pot offenses.
The decision represents a major shift in policing in New York City, where officers have arrested tens of thousands of people yearly on minor marijuana possession charges, and comes as Mayor de Blasio meets with the city’s five district attorneys for the first time since taking office in January.
According to The New York Times, about half of the people arrested on marijuana charges under current policies are released with an appearance ticket after being fingerprinted and checked for open warrants. The other half remain in police custody until they can appear before a judge for an arraignment hearing.
As many as 50,000 people a year were arrested on low-level marijuana charges during the Bloomberg administration. The number of people arrested fell to about 28,000 in 2013, with arrest totals forecast to again hit that number this year Blacks and Latinos disproportionately make up for the number of people arrested, with about 86 percent of those cuffed on low-level pot charges from January to August coming from those two racial groups.
The policy shift would follow Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson’s decision to stop prosecuting minor marijuana possession charges. The Times reports that Thompson’s office has dismissed 849 of the borough’s 2,526 misdemeanor pot cases since he announced the change in July.
De Blasio campaigned in 2013 on reforming the NYPD, criticizing the department’s marijuana arrest policies along with other heavy-handed policing practices, like stop-and-frisk.