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New York City Police to begin issuing summonses instead of arrests for marijuana

June 20, 2018  |  Posted by: Michael Falzarano
New York City Police to begin issuing summonses instead of arrests for marijuana

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NEW YORK (AP) — Lighting up a joint in the Big Apple could lighten some wallets, but won’t lead to handcuffs in most cases once New York City’s revamped marijuana enforcement policy goes into effect on Labor Day weekend.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday police officers will shift to issuing criminal summonses for public marijuana smoking starting Sept. 1 — a move he estimates will eliminate at least 10,000 arrests a year. The Democrat ordered the overhaul last month after a report showed persistent racial gaps in marijuana arrests.

“Nobody’s destiny should hinge on a minor non-violent offense,” said de Blasio.

Officers will still arrest suspected smokers if they are on parole or probation, have an open warrant, a violent criminal history or fail to show identification, Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison said. Getting high while driving also will lead to arrest, he said.

Kassandra Frederique, the New York state director of Drug Policy Alliance, said the exceptions signaled authorities still feel “certain groups of people deserve to be criminalized” and that the city had “found a way to skirt the issue on racial disparities.”

Frederique called the summonses, which require a trip to court and payment of a $100 fine, a “backdoor into the criminal justice system” because people who miss their court date could wind up with a warrant out for their arrest.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez supported the policy change and said he was working on a process to seal the records of thousands of people with marijuana-related convictions, which can impede their ability to get a job or secure housing.

“We must bring a sense of fairness to the past at the same time we implement these new enforcement policies,” said Gonzalez. “We are moving toward a reality in which marijuana will no longer serve as an entry way to our criminal justice system, with all the attendant collateral consequences.”

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