As minor marijuana arrests continue to mount in Central Brooklyn, a local Assembly member introduced a bill to further decriminalize the natural drug.
Under the proposal, possession of 25 grams or less found in public view would warrant a violation similar to a traffic ticket. Currently, 25 grams or less in private warrants the violation, but if police find a small amount of marijuana in someone’s pocket or bag they are often arrested on misdemeanor charges of having the drug in public view. Many of these arrests occur in communities of color where the NYPD employs the most controversial stop-and-frisk searches.
“This legislation is an additional step toward a more equitable criminal justice system that treats everyone the same regardless of race or socioeconomic status,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who co-sponsored the bipartisan bill along with Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) on the Senate side.
The measure comes as misdemeanor marijuana arrests have skyrocketed under the Bloomberg Administration. Last year the city made about 50,000 arrests with Brooklyn being the leading borough.
According to statistics from the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization pushing the bill, this includes nearly 9,000 arrests in Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York.
Police precincts covering this area also have amongst the highest number of reported felony crime in the city. Thus, the NYPD maintains that the stop-and-frisks, along with misdemeanor marijuana arrests, are crucial to reducing crime.
But Jeffries and advocates for the bill say the minor marijuana busts often do the opposite of reducing crime. Additionally, they argue that stop-and-frisk operations make a mockery of the Constitution’s right to privacy.
“These arrests have become a ‘head start’ program into the criminal justice system for young people, especially young black and Latino men,” said Gabriel Sayegh, NY State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Sayegh said the proposed bill has broad support in Albany and if all goes well it will reach Gov. Cuomo’s desk for a signature within a year.