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Brown supports Cuomo’s plan to reform pot possession law

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (l.) and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (r.) say they support Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to reduce the penalty for publicly displaying small amounts of marijuana.
TimesLedger Newspapers

City law enforcement officials came out in support Monday of a state initiative to reform a law advocates say disproportionately affects black and Hispanic youth who are arrested for publicly displaying marijuana during police stop-and-frisks.

Under the current state penal law, possessing 25 grams or less of marijuana in public view is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months in prison. Private possession of the same amount, on the other hand, is a violation that carries a fine. Some individuals, however, are arrested for publicly displaying pot when police order them to empty their pockets or other containers during a stop-and-frisk.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown all said they supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to make the public possession of these small amounts of marijuana a finable offense.

“The proposed legislation strikes the appropriate balance between the needs of law enforcement and the concerns of the community,” Brown said. “We join our colleagues in law enforcement in supporting the governor’s legislation, which will enhance the fair operation of our criminal justice system.”

The proposal would not change the consequences for burning marijuana in a public space, which is a misdemeanor.

According to the governor’s office, arrests for possession of marijuana have gone up from about 2,000 in 1990 to more than 50,000 today. The majority of these arrests — 94 percent — each year are in New York City.

In 2011, the NYPD circulated a memo directing officers to issue a violation to those who display marijuana during a stop-and-frisk.

More than half of those arrested for public possession in the state last year were under the age of 25, and 82 percent were either black or Hispanic. Less than 10 percent of those more than 50,000 arrests were ever convicted of a crime, and those who are convicted, the governor said, may face stigma for the rest of their lives.

“This is an issue that disproportionately affects young people — they wind up with a permanent stain on their record for something that would otherwise be a violation,” Cuomo said. “The charge makes it more difficult for them to find a job. Together, we are making New York fairer and safer, and ensuring that every New Yorker has access to a justice system that doesn’t discriminate based on age or color.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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