Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD will roll out plans Tuesday to issue summonses rather than make arrests for smoking marijuana — with a lengthy list of exceptions — following a 30-day review of ways to end racial disparities in the weed arrests, two sources said Monday.
The overwhelming majority of those arrested in New York for marijuana crimes — 86% — are black or Hispanic, despite studies showing people of all races use the drug with equal frequency. De Blasio pledged to take on that issue about a month ago via a 30-day review by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill of the city’s marijuana laws — and then announced just a week into that review that the city would cease arresting people for smoking in public.
That’s the crux of Tuesday’s announcement, according to the sources who are familiar with it — but it will also include the circumstances under which someone can still be arrested.
The department will issue criminal court summonses to people found smoking marijuana, the two sources said, unless the person:
- Has a misdemeanor or felony warrant
- Is on parole or probation
- Is categorized as a violent offender
- If police can’t verify their identity or their address
- If the person is in the driver’s seat of a car
- If the office can offer a “legitimate law enforcement exception.”
The department will also provide quarterly reports on the racial breakdowns of those arrested, by precinct.
De Blasio’s office declined to comment Monday.
The city estimates that the new policy would lead to a 60% overall decline in pot arrests, which would bring arrests to around 4,400, and aims to have the policy in place by September, according to a source.
The Daily News first reported de Blasio’s intention to end most arrests for smoking marijuana on May 21, well before the 30-day review he told the NYPD to conduct had been concluded.
Some elected officials and advocates are already underwhelmed by the news — particularly with it being rolled out a day after the state Health Department said it would recommend legalizing marijuana.
“I think that the train has left the station and the mayor needs to get on it. It is very clear that the state is moving toward legalization,” said City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens).
He argued the racial disparity could actually increase under the proposal due to the broad exemptions, and that immigrants could be at particular risk.
“It perpetuates all the inequalities that already exist in the criminal justice system,” Lancman said.
He said a civil summons or warning was a more appropriate penalty for public smoking.
“We know that the state is about to implement the legalization of recreational marijuana,” he said. “Why run anybody through the criminal justice system?”
On NY1 Monday night, de Blasio was asked about the rundown of the 30-day clock, but wouldn’t offer specifics about Tuesday’s announcement beyond saying it would aim to reduce the disparity and arrests overall.
“It’s going to take time for sure but we must reduce it and ultimately get to the day when there is no disparity,” de Blasio said.
He also teased a future effort to address past convictions for people who use marijuana — something many advocates have argued should be part of any legalization.
“I think now having looked at new ways to address the here and now, it does not negate that the policies of even the recent past have had a real impact on a lot of New Yorkers,” he said.