Thirty-five years ago New York state lawmakers decided it wasn’t against an arrestable offense to have a small amount of pot on you, as long as it remained out of site. Still, however, more than 39,000 people were arrested for low-level pot possession charges last year. While this marks a drop of 22%, it indicates there is still major work to be done.
In the late 1990s, the number of people being arrested in NYC for small amounts of pot went through the roof. Recently, arrests in 2011 and prior years topped 50,000. It accounted for one-in-eight of every arrests in the city last year, despite its 22% drop.
So, if having a small amount of marijuana on you isn’t an arrestable offense, why are police arresting people for it? This is the tricky part—having a small amount of marijuana out and visible is a misdemeanor, arrestable offense. If a police officer spots you with pot in your hand or if he can somehow get you to show him the pot in your pocket (taking it out into view), he can arrest you.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says there is no indication that officers are somehow inducing people to bring their marijuana out in the open. So, I suppose he is implying that the 39,000 people arrested last year were carrying marijuana in their open hands. Okay then.
Just in case, he warned officers in September 2011 that inducing people to show their pot was not a lawful way of finding justification for an arrest.
Last spring, Governor Andrew Cuomo tried to ease pot possession laws. But, he was unsuccessful. He has vowed to try again this year, and both Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly support him. The idea is to decriminalize marijuana possession of up to 15 grams even if it is out in the open (as long as it isn’t being smoked).
In the meantime, starting next month such open-view marijuana cases will result in an appearance ticket rather than an arrest. This means the civilian will be cited to court at a future date, not arrested unless they have an active warrant or lack identification.
Whether you are accused of having pot in the open or even possessing something as serious as cocaine, you have rights and you have legal options. Contact our offices today to discuss your charges and what can be done.