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NYPD To Begin Issuing Tickets For Low-Level Marijuana Offenses

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Police Commissioner William Bratton announced Monday that officers will now be allowed to issue simple summonses for certain low-level marijuana offenses, rather than making arrests.

As WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported, the policy allows Criminal Court summonses for anyone found in possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana in a public place open to view.

Such offenders will just get a ticket and will not be handcuffed, fingerprinted or photographed, 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon reported.

"This policy will allow officers, in the case where they do find it appropriate to give a summons, to continue on with their work," de Blasio said.

NYPD To Begin Issuing Tickets For Low-Level Marijuana Offenses

The new policy does not apply if someone is smoking marijuana out in the open, or if it is intended for dealing rather than personal use.

"If it's over 25 grams, then it is assumed that it is for sale, and they will be charged appropriately," Bratton said.

NYPD To Begin Issuing Tickets For Low-Level Marijuana Offenses

Those with outstanding warrants or who are wanted in connection with active investigations, or who have no identification, will also still be arrested, Bratton said.

They will be issued a summons for unlawful possession of marijuana, rather than charged with the misdemeanor of criminal possession of marijuana.

A first-time conviction on a marijuana summons will result in a $100 fine, and another one will result in a $250 fine.

In discussing the new policy, Bratton showed a sandwich-size Ziploc bag full of a green herb – actually oregano, but intended to represent marijuana. He said it amounted to 25 grams worth $300 on the street.

"The number of joints, if you will, that you made from that – that amount varies significantly depending on how much they put in each joint," he said.

Studies have shown a disproportionate number of marijuana arrests in the city have fallen on black and Latino communities. A total of 86 percent of marijuana arrests in the first eight months of this year involved black and Hispanic defendants, according to a Queens College study.

Bratton was asked whether that also could end up being the case with the tickets.

"One of the ways to avoid summonses – don't to it. It's that simple," Bratton said. "Don't smoke it, don't carry it, don't use it. It's still against the law. So I'm not giving get-out-of-jail-free cards."

Bratton and Mayor de Blasio both said they do not favor the full legalization of marijuana.

"I am not supportive of legalization of marijuana, and don't anticipate that I will be ever supportive of it," Bratton said.

"I am not comfortable with the notion of legalization," added de Blasio. "Any substance that alters your consciousness is a potential danger – especially if you're driving."

But Bratton said he would rather narcotics officers dedicate their focus to the heroin epidemic.

In issuing the new policy, Mayor de Blasio is responding to increased political pressure to make good on campaign promises to reform policing, CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported.

After the recent resignation of NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks, long-time supporters have revved up criticism of what they say is the slow pace of reform.

"This illuminates a systematic problem in the New York City Police Department that has gone on for decades," Assemblyman Karim Camara, D-Brooklyn, said last week.

"There is still a disparate impact on who is being arrested for marijuana," City Councilman Jumaane Williams, D-Brooklyn, said last week. "When you look at the numbers, everybody uses marijuana, but only one set of people are being arrested for it."

Reaction among everyday New Yorkers was mixed. As 1010 WINS' Al Jones reported, one man, Rafael, said he believes Bratton and de Blasio did the right thing in enacting the new policy.

New Yorkers React To New Marijuana Policy

"That's a good thing, because, you know, you have a little thing in your pocket, they don't charge you for that," Rafael said as he waited for a bus at Fordham Road and University Avenue in the Bronx.

Another man, Jeff, said it seems there are other things on which police could be focusing.

"There's other – there's bigger crimes other than, you know, something so little. You can actually get a summons or even treatment for it," he said.

But a woman named Alicia, said the policy will send the wrong message and result in more people trying marijuana.

"What will happen is everybody that was using it will now feel safer to use it because they're not going to get picked up by the cops," she said.

Some within the Police Department agreed.

Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins said it's the beginning of the crime-fighting pendulum moving backward, Kramer reported.

"I see this as a very, very lax police atmosphere to which we're sending a message to the public that it's OK to do what you want to do on the street regardless of what the law says," Mullins said.

Mullins told WCBS 880's Rich Lamb the move is purely de Blasio backing off.

"I know what his argument is: It targets blacks and Hispanics disproportionately," Mullins said. "But what he's not addressing -- and what no one is addressing -- is that if this is an issue in a black and Hispanic community, ignoring it by not making arrests isn't helpful to the community."

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick J. Lynch issued a statement calling for clear rules regarding enforcement of marijuana laws.

"As City Hall continues to surrender and change the policies of the NYPD, our members need clear and precise rules regarding enforcement priorities," Lynch said. "Anything less will result in our members being held responsible for a failed policy by a discipline obsessed police department and the multiple levels of police oversight it has. We do not want police officers left holding the bag if crime rises because of poor policy. Patrol and enforcement of the law is not as simple as some think. Writing a summons to someone who does not respect the law can result in a volatile situation. Police officers always have to be on guard for violent reaction and resistance which can put them in danger of physical harm and potential disciplinary charges."

And experts in the field of drug rehabilitation were also concerned about the new policy, saying marijuana use can be addictive and calling it a gateway drug to using more dangerous substances.

"We don't want the city to become a marijuana festival," said Dr. Mitchell Rosenthal with Phoenix House. "Marijuana is a very dangerous drug for adolescents. It's a very dangerous drug for people who have a potential for mental illness. And we don't want to give a wrong message that marijuana use is OK."

On the other side of the debate, New York City Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said she does not see the reduction in pot arrests as a road to lawlessness.

"Police officers are constantly making value judgments about how to deal with minor offenses," she told 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa.

But she said summonses do make it "hard to document the racial impact of a policy if you don't have the data."

"We know that marijuana smoking and possession is really as much a white offense as it is by people of color," she said. "When somebody gets a summons, we don't know the race of the person who is summoned."

That's why Lieberman is calling for state legislation that would provide transparency.

"It's really important that we get full transparency about who is being subjected to summonses," she said.

Earlier this year, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced a new policy that allows prosecutors to use their discretion to dismiss many class B misdemeanor pot possession claims on a case-by-case basis.

Thompson said the arrests are taking resources away from dealing with more serious crimes.

But even Thompson expressed concern about the new policy, telling the Times that it's an end-run around prosecutors.

The new procedures go into effect Nov. 19. Commissioner Bratton said he talked to the district attorneys for each of the five boroughs, and told them of the new procedures.

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