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De Blasio, O'Neill Announce New Marijuana Enforcement Policy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O'Neill announced a new marijuana enforcement policy Tuesday in an effort to "reduce unnecessary arrests."

Starting in September, the majority of New Yorkers caught smoking marijuana in public will be issued summonses instead of being arrested.

"We believe that this will result in thousands of fewer arrests," de Blasio said. "In fact next year, we think at least 10,000 fewer New Yorkers will be arrested under this new policy."

People with summonses will have to go to court and pay a $100 fine.

There will exceptions, including if the person is on probation or parole or has existing criminal warrants, if they don't have identification, have a recent documented history of violence or are behind the wheel of a car.

"Today is a day where we take a step into the future, we take a step towards fairness, we take a step towards greater safety," the mayor said.

The announcement comes about a month after de Blasio requested a review of how the NYPD handles marijuana arrest procedures.

News of the policy change had mixed reviews from people outside Tuesday's news conference in East Harlem.

"I think it's great," East Harlem resident Jamie Kubiak told CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis. "I think it's awful that people of color especially are thrown in jail for marijuana possession or use."

"Medical marijuana, I'm for if it will help people with their health issues but I'm not sure if they're gonna be doing it out in the street. I'm not for that," said East Harlem resident Aurea Rivera. "I'm old fashioned."

"The drug laws and regulations have been overblown for years," said East Harlem resident Jim Berridge.

Manhattan's district attorney had already announced that his office will stop prosecuting most low-level marijuana cases on Aug. 1.

Meanwhile, the New York State Health Department is also set to issue a recommendation to legalize marijuana state-wide, six months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the department to study the effects of legalizing marijuana.

"We have neighboring states that have legal marijuana. When those facts change, we need to look at things differently," Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. "That's the decision, at this point, to have a regulated legal marijuana program for adults."

While the report has not yet been finalized, Zucker said its authors reached their conclusion after a thorough review of the legal, medical and social implications of legalization.

"We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons," Zucker said. "When we were done we realized that the pros outweighed the cons."

But Cuomo's opponents called it political posturing, with Marcus Molinaro's office saying: "There are serious questions to be answered about marijuana. They should be answered by serious people without a political agenda."

And Cynthia Nixon's staff adding, "It shouldn't have taken Cuomo eight years and the #CynthiaEffect to understand the 'facts have changed.'"

Individuals on all sides of the marijuana debate said they wanted to hear more about what Cuomo's administration plans to propose.

John Coppola, the executive director of the New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers said legalization must incorporate efforts to prevent underage abuse and educate the public about the risks of addiction and misuse.

"Their plan must incorporate all of the public health implications of legalization and how negative implications might be mitigated," he said.

A Cuomo spokesperson says the governor will review the report, but with the 2018 legislative session about to wrap up, it's a topic to be put on the table for next year, DeAngelis reported.

New York has a medical marijuana program allowing patients with certain qualifying conditions to use non-smokable forms of pot.

On Monday, Zucker said health officials were planning to expand the program to include anyone who has received a prescription for opioids.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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