NY: Is Marijuana Legal Now? Not Quite… What The Mayor’s Announcement Means

Photo Credit: Dankdepot

Yesterday, Mayor Bill de Blasio formally announced a long-expected change in New York City’s policing policy towards marijuana smoking in public—instead of getting arrested, violators will now be issued a summons… for the most part.

The Mayor took to Twitter to break the news:

Bill de Blasio @NYCMayor 

As of September 1st, New Yorkers with no prior record will receive a summons instead of an arrest for smoking marijuana in public. We believe this will lead to ten thousand fewer arrests in the next year.

But even as fall rolls around and cops switch to ticketing tokers, there are a couple key aspects to the policy that marijuana enthusiasts should be aware of:

First, the policy still allows police to stop and search those they suspect of smoking marijuana.

Second, if the smoker in question has been arrested for a violent crime in the last three years, is on parole, probation or has a warrant out, they’ll be cuffed and taken to the station. Same goes for anyone without an ID or those deemed to be dangerous to the public, like those smoking behind the wheel.

Once given a summons, most people would be free to go, understanding that they’d have to appear in court later and pay a fine determined by a judge. Of course, failure to appear for court could lead to a warrant for their arrest.

With the new policy, the Mayor hopes to cut down the number of arrests by 10,000 per year.

Earlier this year, the Brooklyn District Attorney, Eric Gonzalez, announced he would commit to pursuing less low-level marijuana prosecutions. “I believe that low-level marijuana cases should be responded to with summonses rather than arrests,” he said.

“In the coming weeks, we will work with the police department and the Mayor to identify the very small number of exceptions that raise public safety concerns, and any case that does not fall within these exceptions will no longer be prosecuted,” Gonzalez said at the time.

As many states legalize marijuana and loosen sanctions, talk of legalization in New York is increasing. Yesterday, Mayor de Blasio also acknowledged a broader conversation happening at the State level:

Bill de Blasio @NYCMayor 

Replying to @NYCMayor 

We know there is a bigger discussion happening across the nation and at the state level on legalization of marijuana. But until that debate is resolved, we’re doing what we can to make our city safer and fairer for all New Yorkers.

Long an opponent of legal weed, Governor Cuomo called has called marijuana a “gateway drug” in the past. Now, he seems to be changing his tune, putting funding for a study on the pros and cons of legalization into the 2018 budget.

Recently, the health department released the recommendation that marijuana be legal for adults in New York. Cuomo may be feeling the progressive pressure from primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, who has been vocally in favor of legalization.

For now, marijuana is still illegal in New York City. In September, it will be as well, but smokers will face much less of a threat of arrest if they decide to light up on the streets.