Pot Smokers: Albany Wants to Help You Out With Those Annoying Low-Level Arrests

Sick of getting busted for smoking that joint on your stoop?

Well, the folks in Albany have a cure -- new legislation that would close a loophole that allows cops to arrest anyone caught with less than 7/8 of an ounce of marijuana.

The legislature actually banned the practice in 1977, except where the marijuana is either "burning", i.e., a lit joint, or in plan view. Critics say that the NYPD has exploited that loophole, by intimidating people, largely young blacks and Hispanics, into emptying their pockets during a stop-and-frisk. Once the pot is in "plain view," they are arrested. The increase in stop-and-frisks in the city has mirrored the increase in marijuana arrests in recent years.

Last year, 54,000 people -- including 50,000 here in the city -- were arrested for possession of small amounts of pot. Marijuana arrests make up 15 percent of all NYPD arrests -- making it the number one type of arrest in the city. Critics have called the pot crackdown a waste of $75 million a year in taxpayer money.

Under legislation sponsored by Brooklyn Democratic Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and Republican Buffalo Senator Mark Grisanti, folks caught smoking a joint or in possession of a small amount of pot in public view would just be given a ticket, rather than arrested.

Police currently are "going against the intent of the law," says Tony Newman, a spokesman for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This bill tries to get back to that intent."

"With New York in serious fiscal crisis, we simply cannot afford to arrest tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens for possessing small amounts of marijuana -- especially when so many of these arrests are the result of illegal searches or mis-charging," Grisanti says. "Furthermore, the unwarranted racial disparities associated with these arrests are unacceptable. This legislation strikes the right balance by discouraging and punishing possession and use of marijuana while promoting smarter, more effective use of our limited fiscal resources."

The police crackdown is interesting in light of Mayor Bloomberg's campaign statement that not only did he try marijuana, but he liked it.

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