New York City’s Zero Tolerance Marijuana Policy

Zero tolerance – we hear the phrase all the time. For example, New York has a zero tolerance DWI law making it illegal for anyone under 21 to drive a motor vehicle after having consumed any alcohol at all. Zero tolerance has also been applied to harassment in the workplace, domestic violence and possession of narcotics.

You might be interested in knowing that the New York City Police Department has its own zero tolerance policy concerning possession of small amounts of marijuana. The policy has been in effect since the early 1990’s, and in more recent times has led to over 50,000 arrests per year. Quite a number, when you consider the growing trend around the country, including New York, to reduce the penalties for, and in some cases to decriminalize, possession of small quantities of marijuana.

To understand the situation, you need to know that in New York, possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana has been decriminalized – you can still receive a citation for it, akin to a traffic summons – but it is no longer a criminal offense. Possession of marijuana in public view, on the other hand, remains a Class B misdemeanor.

The determination of NYC cops to make marijuana arrests came to light not only because of the epidemic of charges, but also because of a memo issued by the Police Commissioner late last year. In the memo, officers were admonished because they were going through their “stop and frisk” routine, directing subjects to empty their pockets, and when the subject revealed a small amount of marijuana, an arrest was made charging him/her with possession in public view. Sort of like having an officer order you to cross in the middle of a street, then charging you with jaywalking – well, not exactly, but you get the point.

It’s not our province to comment upon the wisdom of the marijuana laws. We do note that the trend is certainly toward lessening the penalties for possession, although the marijuana debate continues to stir reactions on both sides of the issue. More and more states are enacting legislation legalizing medical marijuana. There are now 16 states (plus the District of Columbia) with medical marijuana laws in place, and another dozen or so, including New York, with such legislation pending. However, 2012 saw medical marijuana bills fail in seven states. And marijuana remains illegal under federal law, further complicating the issue.

What we find most interesting about the NYPD crusade to make tens of thousands of marijuana arrests annually, is that it comes at a time when the City’s resources for providing municipal services are strained to the breaking point. And It certainly cuts against arguments that we don’t have sufficient police resources to fight serious crime.

The laws governing marijuana are neither simple nor easy to understand. If you have been charged with a marijuana offense, contact a New York marijuana lawyer with the experience and knowledge to protect your interests.

George Vomvolakis Law Offices
275 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
(212) 682-0700