Andrew Cuomo Wants To Make Weed Even Less Illegal (While Still Refusing To Support Medical Marijuana)

Governor Andrew Cuomo today will reportedly ask state lawmakers to make marijuana even less illegal than it already is in the Empire State. Keep in mind, though, Cuomo is the same guy who's still unwilling to support the legalization of marijuana used for medicinal purposes, despite enormous public support for prescription pot.

As it currently stands, possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York is about as serious a violation as a parking ticket -- it was decriminalized in the 1970s. But there's a loophole for law enforcement: if you possess marijuana, and display it in "public view," you can get slapped with a misdemeanor. Cuomo's plan would make it so that possession in "public view" also is only a violation.

Cuomo's push for the further decriminalization of marijuana comes as New York City officials are catching some heat over the disproportionate number of minorities arrested for marijuana possession under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly's controversial "Stop and Frisk" policy.

Weed advocates say minorities are jailed at a much higher rate than white people who get busted with weed, which has much to do with illegal searches causing people to reveal their weed in public, thus committing a misdemeanor.

Last month, the Drug Policy Alliance, a weed advocacy group, held a rally at City Hall to draw attention to the racially lopsided number of arrests for marijuana possession. The DPA cites a recent New York Times editorial claiming that of the roughly 50,000 people arrested each year in New York for low-level marijuana offenses, 87 percent are black or Hispanic.

"One New York City is for white people, where marijuana possession was decriminalized in 1977, people are seldom stopped and frisked, and mothers do not fear that their teenagers will be rounded up by the police," the group says. "The other New York City is for people of color, where hundreds of thousands of people are stopped even though most were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, tens of thousands are illegally searched, falsely charged, arrested and incarcerated for marijuana possession (even though it's not a crime in New York), and mothers are afraid that the police may unlawfully arrest their young people."

In the last five years under the Bloomberg regime, the group says the NYPD made more marijuana arrests than in the twenty-four years under mayors Giuliani, Dinkins and Koch combined. Again, despite marijuana being decriminalized in New York for more than 30 years.

The group says low-level marijuana arrests make up 15-percent of the total arrests made in the five boroughs, which makes marijuana possession the "number one offense" in New York. And those arrests -- and the clogging of the court system they create -- costs New York City $75 million a year (again, that's according to marijuana advocates -- we weren't able to independently confirm the dollar amount).

Regardless of the exact dollar amount, cracking down on marijuana is costing the city money -- and it's costing the city money as it's cutting funding for things like libraries and after-school programs.

Cuomo's support for further decriminalizing marijuana comes just weeks after the governor said he wouldn't support a bill that would legalize medical marijuana.

Cuomo's said he's "studying" the pros and cons of medical marijuana, but that there isn't enough time this year for the Legislature to fine-tune the bill into something he'd consider signing (we suspect Cuomo's stance on medical weed has something to do with his presidential ambitions. More on that here).

"There are tremendous risks," the governor told reporters in April. "I think the risks outweigh the benefits at this point."

We asked the governor's office what "risks" he was referring to, however, we were given no answer. More on that here.

So, if Cuomo has his way, people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes (as well as those who use it for recreational purposes) will be able to possess weed in public without having to worry about getting charged with a misdemeanor. However, they'll still have to buy that weed from a drug dealer (where it can't be taxed or regulated) -- rather than get it from a doctor -- as Cuomo weighs the risks of letting people who already are smoking pot to treat various ailments to continue to do so legally. 

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