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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Martin Alonso

Mayor de Blasio tells the NYPD to stop arrests for smoking weed in public

By Clayton Guse

The idea of legal weed is slowly but surely gaining traction in Albany, but Mayor Bill de Blasio is making moves of his own while he waits for the state legislature to warm up to the drug. Over the weekend, he directed the NYPD to issue summonses instead of making arrests for smoking the stuff in public, a City Hall aide told CNN

The news came less than a week after the district attorneys in Manhattan and Brooklyn announced a new policy to cut the prosecution of marijuana-related offenses in the boroughs, which followed a damning report from The New York Times that found a stark racial disparity among pot arrests in the city. 

Two days after the Times piece was published, Police Commissioner James O'Neill announced the formation of a “30-day working group” to review the way the NYPD enforces marijuana laws. In a statement, O'Neill said that the department does not target people based on race or other demographics, and that community complaints received from 911 and 311 lead to higher arrest rates for weed in some communities (a claim that is not supported by police data). 

O'Neill's group will review the NYPD's policies and procedures surrounding marijuana enforcement, and it will be tasked with seeking opinions from experts on the issue. The move is similar to a report commissioned by Governor Andrew Cuomo in January on the potential impacts of cannabis legalization.

Still, so long as marijuana is illegal in the state, pot-related arrests will not be phased out entirely in the five boroughs. In a report detailing his office’s policy change, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said as much. 

“Our office's belief is that such discussions are likely to lead in the foreseeable future to reforms that legalize and regulate the cultivation, distribution, sale and consumption of marijuana in New York: reforms our office will support,” the report says. “The impact, of course, will be far reaching, as an entirely new industry will effectively be created with a single legislative stroke.”

There is currently a bill bouncing around the New York State Senate—the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act—that would legalize the adult use of cannabis for recreational purposes, but it currently does not have enough support in the legislature to be passed. But with a new round of elections scheduled this fall and the weed-friendly Cynthia Nixon challenging Cuomo’s seat, that dynamic could change very quickly.

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