Cuomo Enters Stop-and-Frisk Debate, Seeks to Reduce Low-Level Pot Arrests

The governor's proposal would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing legislation that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view, which is the leading cause of arrests citywide.

Cuomo, joined by lawmakers, district attorneys and law enforcement officials on Monday announced his plan to amend a state law to cut down on the number of people arrested for low-level marijuana possession.

Tens of thousands of people are arrested on low-level marijuana possession charges each year, many of them young blacks and Latinos who only display the pot because they are asked by officers to empty their pockets during routine stop-and-frisks.

Previous laws decriminalized low-level pot possession, but not when it is in public view. Since the drug comes into public view during the police stop, the possessor is subject to arrest.

The consequences of those arrests are far-reaching, advocates say, making it more difficult for young people to get jobs, financially constraining them with attorney fees and unnecessarily putting them in the criminal justice system.

Cuomo said in a statement that it is an issue that "disproportionately affects young people -- they wind up with a permanent stain on their record for something that would otherwise be a violation."

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had issued a directive to officers last year not to arrest stop-and-frisk subjects for low-level marijuana possession, though the New York Times reports the decline in arrests was minimal following his order.

Nearly 51,000 people were arrested in 2011 for low-level marijuana possession, which exceeds arrests for any other offense, according to a state data analysis cited by the Times. Cuomo's proposal does not address the number of stop-and-frisks, but takes a legislative approach to Kelly's order in an effort to reduce the number of people arrested on that charge.

Mayor Bloomberg announced his support for Cuomo's proposal on Monday, calling it consistent with the directive Kelly issued last year.

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