Bloomberg and Cuomo Support Plan to Limit Arrests for Marijuana

(via The New York Times) ALBANY — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Monday that he would support a proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to significantly curb the number of people who could be arrested for marijuana possession as a result of police stops.

Mr. Cuomo urged lawmakers on Monday to change state law to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view, an offense that critics say leads to unfair charges against thousands of people who are ordered to empty their pockets during police stops that have proliferated under the Bloomberg administration’s stop-and-frisk practice.

Mr. Bloomberg, whose administration had previously defended low-level marijuana arrests as a way to deter more serious crime, said in a statement that the governor’s proposal “strikes the right balance” in part because it would still allow the police to arrest people who were smoking marijuana in public.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, announced his plans to seek the change in state law at a news conference at the Capitol on Monday. The governor said he would seek to downgrade the possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana in public view from a misdemeanor to a violation, with a maximum fine of $100 for first-time offenders.

The New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, attended the news conference as a way of demonstrating the city’s support for Mr. Cuomo’s proposal. Echoing the mayor, he described the governor’s proposal as a “balanced approach.”

Mr. Kelly noted that when he had been asked in the past about the city’s high number of marijuana arrests, he responded that people unhappy with the arrests should lobby the Legislature to change state law, which he called a better option “than having police officers, New York City police officers, turn a blind eye to the law as it was written and as it is still written.”

“This law will make certain that the confusion in this situation will be eliminated,” he said, adding, “Quite frankly, it will make the application of this law much clearer.”

Mr. Cuomo’s proposal followed a memorandum to officers that Mr. Kelly issued in September clarifying that they were not to arrest people who take small amounts of marijuana out of their pockets after being stopped by the police. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly said the governor’s proposal was consistent with the city’s directive.

Mr. Cuomo said changing the law was a better approach in the long term, saying, “I think it puts the police in an awkward position to tell them: enforce some laws, don’t enforce other laws.”

“This is nice and clean: change the law, period,” the governor added.

Critics of the Police Department’s marijuana-arrest policies have complained that Mr. Kelly’s memorandum has had little effect. But a city spokesman said that since the commissioner’s memorandum the number of low-level marijuana arrests has fallen by nearly a quarter.

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