Cuomo gets New Yorkers' backing for pot law change
An agreement has not yet been reached for the governor's proposal this week to ease the state's pot laws, but evidence emerged Monday of bipartisan support for the change from city and state leaders -- and New Yorkers.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he wants to decriminalize small-scale marijuana possession because the current laws are not only unfair, but also a waste of law-enforcement resources. A little more than 53,000 New Yorkers were arrested on pot possession charges last year, many of them busted during stop-and-frisks by the NYPD. Only 10% of arrests resulted in conviction, according to the governor's office.
Currently, those caught with 25 grams of marijuana or less in public view are charged with a misdemeanor for a first-time offense. Under the new law, that crime would be punishable with a $100 fine -- the same as the current penalty for hiding pot in your pocket.
Several New Yorkers applauded the move.
"If you got a small amount, it really shouldn't matter," said Rita Saunders, a 25-year-old college student from the Bronx.
Peter Moskos, associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the change should have taken place a long time ago because the harsh penalties only hurt police relations.
"No one cares about a kid with a little baggie in their pocket," Moskos said.
Cuomo, a Democrat, is pushing for legislative approval before Albany's current session ends in three weeks, and he has corralled major support.
City leaders and civil groups, including the Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the city's district attorneys and the NYCLU, backed the measure.
Kelly told reporters he wanted to address concerns with stop and frisk, but that the law has kept his hands tied. "This law will make certain the confusion in this situation will be eliminated," he said.
The governor said the tactic, though useful, complicated the marijuana law, as suspects who carried pot would be cuffed if a cop ordered them to empty their pockets.
"There is a blatant inconsistency," Cuomo said.
Some New Yorkers, however, feared the new law could send the wrong message to tokers. William Harrison, 30, a teacher from Harlem, said he is concerned the lighter punishment would encourage New Yorkers to tote illegal substances in public.
"You'll give them the OK to just have drugs on the streets," he said.