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Marijuana enforcement in NYC: NYPD task force to unveil 'smart plan,' mayor says

Racial disparities in arrest rates helped inspire Police Commissioner James O'Neill's 30-day working group.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O'Neill discuss crime statistics at a news conference on May 8. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

Mayor Bill de Blasio is promising a "really smart plan" will be released next week to address the racial disparities in marijuana policing.

A 30-day task force convened by Police Commissioner James O'Neill on May 15 to "review NYPD marijuana enforcement" has completed its work, the mayor said Friday on his weekly appearance on WNYC. 

"The NYPD will be announcing the results of that task force and the actions that will be taken. I think it's been a very productive process," the mayor told host Brian Lehrer. 

The group's conclusions, which the mayor would not preview, will be among a flurry of decisions reached this spring that affect New York City marijuana users. The mayor last month announced plans to order the NYPD to stop arresting people for public consumption and issue them summonses instead, while Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said his office will not prosecute marijuana possession cases, with limited exceptions, starting in August. 

De Blasio, who is personally not a proponent of recreational marijuana legalization, said the goal of the task force is "straightforward."

"We are the safest big city in America; we want to be the fairest big city in America. Those two goals go together... they actually support each other," he said on WNYC. 

Data showing that people of color in predominantly minority neighborhoods are arrested on marijuana charges at much higher rates than those in largely white communities has sparked Vance's decision to suspend prosecutions and motivated O'Neill's work with the task force.

The commissioner said when the task force was announced that the NYPD needs "an honest assessment" as to why "differences in arrest rates" exist. "The NYPD will review our practices to ensure enforcement is consistent with the values of fairness and trust at the root of neighborhood policing," O'Neill said. 

"We need to reduce and ultimately end disparities," de Blasio said Friday. "I think next week we're going to be able to show a really smart plan to reduce those disparities, reduce unnecessary arrests, but also continue the clear progress we're making on safety." 

The mayor has said he believes that recreational marijuana legalization is "likely.

“With marijuana legalization likely to occur in our state in the near future, it is critical our city plans for the public safety, health, and financial consequences involved,” de Blasio said in a statement last month.

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