Remember how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana in public view? And remember how that was his way of reducing the number of arrests that result from the NYPD's "stop-and-frisk" policy, without telling the police department how to do their job? And remember how both NYPD officials and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was/is a big supporter of that policy, unexpectedly came out in support of the weed decriminalization?
That was kind of fun, wasn't it?
Well, the fun appears to be over now.
A story in The New York Times today said Cuomo's plan appears doomed in Albany. The word "doomed" was literally used. In the headline. Here's what happened:
The Senate is controlled by Republicans.
Republicans, who typically reject measures that can be perceived as soft on crime, were not so down with Cuomo's plan, despite Bloomberg's (figurative) cosign. The partisan divide could even be seen among New York City politicians, which Thomas Kaplan showed in a New York Times article earlier this month.
The five district attorneys in New York City also endorsed the change in the law on Monday. The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said that half of the 6,200 people who were charged with low-level marijuana possession last year in Manhattan had never been arrested before.
...But one Republican, Senator Martin J. Golden of Brooklyn, expressed concerns. He said that the enthusiasm among some lawmakers and advocacy groups for Mr. Cuomo’s proposal was “all about stop-and-frisk,” and, citing several young people in his district who had died of prescription drug overdoses in recent months, questioned the message it would send to young people about drug use.
Noting the 25-gram threshold for Mr. Cuomo’s proposal, he said, “That’s a lot of pot, my friend.”
Cuomo's decriminalization plan had not surpassed Republican resistance in the Senate by midnight on Monday, the deadline for deals to be made on any legislation that could pass before the current legislative session ends on Thursday. Hence the whole "doomed" thing.
"In truth, some of the matters that are still open, like teacher evaluations, these are not urgent matters," Cuomo said Monday on WOR-AM. "They're complicated. My instinct is we have time."
Under Cuomo’s proposal, New York state would change its laws to make the possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana in public view a violation, instead of a criminal misdemeanor, with a maximum fine of $100 for people with no prior drug convictions. The only proposed change, according to Kaplan, is the "public view" part.
In New York, the Legislature in 1977 reduced the penalty for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana to a violation, which carries a maximum fine of $100 for first-time offenders.
But it remains a misdemeanor if the marijuana is in public view or is being smoked in public, and lawmakers and drug-reform advocates have argued that the misdemeanor charge is often unfairly applied to suspects who did not have marijuana in public view until the police stopped them and told them to empty their pockets.
In September, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued a memorandum stating that police officers were not to arrest people who remove small amounts of marijuana from their pockets when they are stopped. The state law would only ensure that this memorandum is followed. (A city spokesperson told The New York Times that low-level marijuana arrests had dropped by a quarter since Kelly issued the memorandum.)
Despite the doom facing the plan in this legislative session, Jacob Gershman and Lisa Fleisher indicated in The Wall Street Journal that a change in the tides could be on Cuomo's side, and the side of other politicians who want to reform marijuana laws.
Mr. Cuomo's effort to decriminalize marijuana thrust him into the national debate over drug policy at a moment when polls indicate growing support for more lenient marijuana laws.
That includes support for the most lenient law, which would be legalization. A national Gallup poll showed support for the legalization of marijuana had reached 50 percent in 2011, up from 46 percent in 2010 and 25 percent in the mid-'90s.
But before you go waving a pot-leaf-print flag, consider these words from Robert DuPont, who was drug czar during the Nixon and Ford administrations, reminding us in Bloomberg Businesweek that marijuana's bad (m'kay):
"People ask me what the most dangerous drug is, and I say marijuana. Other drugs have serious consequences that are easy to recognize. Marijuana saps people's motivation, their direction. It's a drug that makes people stupid and lazy. That's in a way more dangerous."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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