Can New York's Governor Decriminalize Marijuana?

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has a plan to stop police from arresting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana, a plan that won't sit will with New York City's mayor. Cuomo will reportedly ask the State Assembly for a new law that would drastically reduce the number of arrests for small drug crimes that currently fill up jails and hit minority populations the hardest.

The new legislation would take direct aim at New York City's controversial "stop and frisk" policy, without actually challenging its legality or interfering in the NYPD's work. Even though most of those who are stopped and searched on city streets end up not being guilty of anything, anyone found possessing even small amounts of the drug can end up charged with a crime, despite being stopped for an unrelated reason. Supporters of the policy say it helps deter drug use and helps catch criminals who have committed far worse crimes, but other say the arrests clog the court system and leave a ugly mark on the records of those who are guilty of rather minor offenses. 

Those supporters include Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will likely push back against the governor's attempt to change the way his city is policed. His NYPD has been heavily criticized for being overly aggressive and occasionally reckless — as we've seen repeatedly during the Occupy Wall Street protests — but Bloomberg argues louder than anyone that they've made the city safer and he has no interest in reigning them in. As the mayor enters his final year in office without (allegedly) any national aspirations, he won't sit by quietly and let Cuomo dismantle his law and order legacy. And we're sure there will be plenty of legislators who aren't interested in going "soft on drugs" either. Cuomo plans to announce his proposal on Monday, and we'll be curious to see how the rest of the folks in Albany respond.

The NYPD arrested 50,684 people for minor marijuana possession last year, more than for any other offense, according to the New York Daily Newswith the overwhelming majority of those nabbed being young black and Latino men.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.