New York City Decriminalization of Cannabis Begins Today

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Beginning today, November 19th, 2014, the possession of 25 grams of less of cannabis in the city of New York, New York will be punishable by a court summons instead of arrest and a misdemeanor charge. For a city long notorious for its racially biased stop and frisk practices, this shift in policy could be a sign of good things to come.

While officials are stressing that marijuana is still illegal, this new policy could be the beginning of a new era of rational policing. Thousands of people may avoid criminal records and the many issues with housing and employment that come with the inability to pass a criminal background check.

Before any New Yorkers get too excited, don’t make plans to stroll through Central Park smoking a doobie; burning marijuana is still illegal and those caught doing so are still subject to arrest. Those in possession of marijuana may be arrested as well if they have outstanding warrants for anything else or fail to provide valid, state-issued identification.

Still, there are concerns about the new court summons system. One of the biggest issues with the idea of issuing tickets instead of arresting people for marijuana possession is that there is no way for outside organizations to track and analyze the use of the court summons as there are with arrests, so unequal application of the law will be harder to prove. Additionally, many people are concerned that the court summons process, which requires those cited to appear in court, may result in many people having warrants issued for their arrest when they fail to appear in court (which is already relatively common).

Whatever flaws the new policy may have, most everyone can agree that fewer arrests for marijuana possession will always be a good thing. Congrats to New York City and its residents on the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of cannabis.

For previous Ladybud Magazine coverage of New York, click here

Photo Credit: Hakilon under (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons