New York is THIS Close To Legalizing Medical Weed, But NYC is Still the Pot Arrest Capital of the U.S.

Tessa Stuart
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.
On Tuesday the New York State Assembly passed, for the fifth time since it was introduced in 1997, the Compassionate Care Act. The bill would legalize medical marijuana in New York state, allowing sick New Yorkers relief from symptoms associated with cancer treatment, MS, epilepsy, and other ailments. With that vote, New York comes one step closer to joining the 21 others states and the District of Columbia where marijuana is legal in some form.

The same day, in downtown New York, demonstrators in front of One Police Plaza called attention to the fact that, despite progress in Albany, New York City remains the marijuana arrest capital of the United States.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries gathered with representatives from the Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, and Vocal New York beside a large graph showing that despite promises Mayor Bill de Blasio made during his campaign, arrests for simple possession have not dropped in any significant way since he took office.

In fact, advocates say not only are marijuana arrests are up in March and April compared with last year, the city is still on pace to make the same number of possession arrests this year, and, most alarmingly, those arrests are still overwhelmingly concentrated in black and hispanic communities (comprising 87% of arrests in the first quarter of 2014).

New York state decriminalized marijuana possession in the 1977, but, Jeffries said Tuesday, simple possession arrests have persisted because of a loophole: an arrest can still be made if the pot was in public view. "The police have been approaching individuals, asking them to empty their pockets, show us everything they have. If someone happens to have small quantities of marijuana in their pockets, something that was not criminal behavior, as a result of the police interaction is then turned into a misdemeanor."

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