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Cuomo Calls For Decriminalization Of Possession Of Small Amounts Of Pot In Public

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling on lawmakers to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view.

The new legislation would make the possession of 25 grams of marijuana or less, in private or public view, a violation subject to a ticket and fine rather than a misdemeanor, Cuomo announced Monday.

1010 WINS' Stan Brooks reports


It's a move that could drastically reduce the number of arrests related to the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy.

"I think the law is flawed as it is, but I think it's aggravated by the stop-and-frisk scenario where, legitimately, a police officer can say 'turn out your pockets' and the suggestion of the police officer transforms the action from a violation to a crime," Cuomo said.

"The effect of a criminal conviction on a young person can alter the trajectory of your entire life."

WCBS 880's Rich Lamb: All Five NYC District Attorneys Are On Board


More than 500,000 New Yorkers were arrested last year for possessing small amounts of pot, according to state data released in February. Critics have said that number is driven by the stop-and-frisk program that they believe targets minorities.

"By taking up this issue, Gov. Cuomo is taking a major step forward to ending the criminalization of young men of color," Alfredo Carrasquillo, a community organizer for VOCAL New York, said in a statement. "This shows great leadership by our governor to address racially biased practices and restore the relationship between communities of color and our government.

Of the 53,000 marijuana arrests  made in New York in the past year, 94 percent were in New York City and of those arrested 82 percent were either black or Hispanic, CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported.

"Those numbers are telling. Those numbers are stark," Cuomo said.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who joined Cuomo at the news conference on Monday, said the new legislation would eliminate confusion surrounding current marijuana laws.

"It think it's a balanced approached and it's significant that it supports our quality of life efforts in that smoking it in public or burning  it is still a crime," Kelly said.

"It also mandates that a violation be charged whether or not the marijuana is in plain sight or not."

The governor's plan also has the support of all five of New York City's district attorneys, including Manhattan DA Cy Vance.

"This simple and fair change will help us redirect significant resources to the most serious criminals and crime problems," Vance said.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries explained to CBS 2's Kramer why the change is needed.

"These arrests, of course, have significant consequences that can be damaging and life altering. It can prevent you from getting a job. It can stop you from getting into college," Jeffries said. "It can stop you from living in public housing."

Many New Yorkers also seem to be on board with the idea.

"I think that's wrong," one man said. "First of all, they shouldn't be stopping and frisking anybody and it's just over populating the jails for a small amount of weed."

"I think it's violating people's rights," one woman said.

But others said the policy acts as a deterrent and needs to be enforced.

"Obviously, it's a drug," said another. "It's not right for the youth."

In September of last year, Kelly ordered his officers to stop arresting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

He said most arrests are from drug transactions or from cops witnessing someone smoking pot in public, which would still be illegal under the proposed measure.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg also issued a statement Monday supporting the governor's plan, saying in part:

"The governor's proposal today is consistent with the commissioner's directive, and strikes the right balance by ensuring that the NYPD will continue to have the tools it needs to maintain public safety – including making arrests for selling or smoking marijuana."

Bloomberg added that he looks forward to "working with legislative leaders to help pass a bill before the end of session."

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