Under New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new policy, starting Sept. 1, the New York police department will no longer arrest people for smoking weed in public.
However, Mayor de Blasio’s policy includes exceptions that are significant and have advocates questioning whether the mayor’s intended goal of reducing racial bias is even possible under the so-called “carve-outs.”
The exceptions allow the NYPD to still arrest people for weed possession or smoking if they are: on probation or parole, have existing criminal warrants, are not carrying an ID, have a recent documented history of violence, or if their smoking poses a public safety risk, including while driving.
The “carve-outs” end up providing a loophole for the NYPD to continue its racially-discriminatory policing practices, said City Council member Donovan Richards on a local radio station. He said he was worried the policy will confuse people, especially those who fall under the exceptions.
For example, Richards speculated that someone on parole might hear that police are not arresting people for smoking weed, so they may think they're safe smoking in public. But that's not the case for parolees.
"You could very much end up back in jail based on a low-level marijuana offense,” said Richards.
Chris Alexander of the Drug Policy Alliance agreed. “By creating these carve-outs that focus on specific populations, the mayor's new policy is essentially just sharpening the tool the police already had to focus their enforcement."
The policy’s exceptions would continue to allow officers to stop and run a background check on someone smoking weed. If that person doesn’t have an ID, they’d be arrested.
Pot possession arrests already disproportionately impact young people in their teens and twenties and people of color.
“Technically, what the mayor and the D.A. have done can be looked at as some form of decriminalization,” said Alexander. “If they’re really trying to decriminalize, [they should] remove criminal penalties altogether.”