New York City Mayor, Bill De Blasio, has called for the NYPD to no longer arrest those found smoking marijuana in public. Marijuana is currently still illegal in New York, and smoking in public can lead to an arrest by the NYPD. De Blasio has recommended that instead of arresting those found smoking marijuana in public, individuals should be issued with a summons or ‘pink ticket’. This would be the same protocol that is currently used for individuals found in possession of a small amount of marijuana.

Racial Bias

This effort to relax New York’s approach in dealing with marijuana related arrests comes after implications of racial bias by the NYPD were raised. 86% of individuals arrested for possession last year were black or Hispanic, despite use of the drug being fairly equal between whites and people of color. De Blasio has stated that he will not tolerate these disparities, and that he wants to close the gap, stating “We must and we will end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement”.

Future Legalization

De Blasio has publicly acknowledged that marijuana legalization is likely to be introduced sooner rather than later. In a statement issued to the public, De Blasio said, “With marijuana legalization likely to occur in our state in the near future, it is critical our city plans for the public safety, health, and financial consequences involved”.

De Blasio has also ordered the NYPD to create a taskforce to prepare for legalization of recreational marijuana, and the NYPD confirmed in a public statement that they had a developed a working group. Police spokesperson Phil Walzak stated that the working group would be focused on reviewing changes to the law and making sure that enforcement of the law would be as fair and unbiased as possible.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is also preparing for the legalization of recreational marijuana, stating that from August 1st he would no longer prosecute cases of marijuana smoking and possession. Vance has also acknowledged the unfair targeting of minorities in marijuana related arrests, and has stated that these arrests do not reflect the city’s goal of a fairer justice system for all New Yorkers, regardless of race.

Marijuana legalization is currently a hot topic in the race for governor of New York also, with gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon saying she will legalize marijuana if she is elected. Nixon is competing with current governor Andrew Cuomo for the democratic nomination. Cuomo has previously said he is against the legalization of marijuana, however, he has stated that his stance could change.

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