NYC Cops Told to Let People Smoke Weed in Public (Where it's Allowed)

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What to Know

  • New York became the 15th state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize marijuana for recreational use
  • Legalization of the plant is effective immediately but legal recreational sales are not expected to begin for one or two years
  • Smoking marijuana in public is nearly universally allowed, except in places where bans on smoking (cigarettes) is in place

The police officers long in charge of enforcing marijuana laws in New York City have new rules of engagement now that recreational marijuana is legal in the state.

Under the new law signed Wednesday, New Yorkers are now allowed to smoke marijuana in public settings where it's legal to smoke a cigarette -- a part of the law unique from other states that have so far legalized marijuana.

The NYPD issued a four-page memo the same day, outlining the department's new orders in responding to marijuana.

Smoking marijuana is no longer "a basis for an approach, stop, summons, arrest, or search" the department memo said. New Yorkers smoking marijuana on sidewalks or front stoops - they use as an example - are protected under the law.

Not all public spaces are fair game, however. The city has a ban on smoking in park and beaches.

One Long Island official is leading a call for all towns on the island to opt out of selling marijuana when it becomes legal in the state. NBC New York's Greg Cergol reports.

Cops also don't have actionable jurisdiction for anyone under the legal limit in possession of three ounces or less of marijuana. The memo states that officers "may have the ability to issue a civil summons" for violators under 21 in the future.

Anyone under the legal age caught smoking in public spaces that bans smoking, however would be subject to a criminal court summons, according to the memo.

The smell of marijuana alone is no longer probable cause for a vehicle search for contraband, the NYPD said. A vehicle search does become lawful is a driver appears visibly impaired. Smoking behind the wheel, although a criminal offense, does not warrant a vehicle search either.

The department is also shifting how it responds to hand-to-hand "sales." Exchanges of lawful amounts of marijuana, three ounces or less, done without an exchange of payment or compensation are not considered a sale and are allowed, the department said.

Black and Latino New Yorkers combined made up 94 percent of marijuana-related arrests by the New York Police Department in 2020, even though the city's statistics show that the proportion of white New Yorkers using marijuana is considerably higher than that of either Latino or Black residents.

According to a New York City health department survey, 24 percent of white residents reported using marijuana, compared with 14 percent of Black residents and 12 percent of Latino residents, over the two-year period of 2015-2016, the most recent available data.

Wednesday's bill signing immediately legalized marijuana use but recreational sales are not expected to begin for one or two years.

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