NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Preparing City for Marijuana Legalization, Instructs NYPD to Halt Arrests

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to instruct the New York Police Department to stop arrests of New Yorkers smoking weed in public while additionally forming a task force to ease what he sees as an inevitable full legalization of recreational marijuana.

De Blasio will direct the NYPD to hand out summonses to people caught smoking pot by officers in public areas across the city, but not arrest them, aides told the New York Daily News Sunday.

The move is partially a follow-up on his announcement last week to "overhaul and reform" enforcement that has created a wide racial disparity in marijuana arrests. But de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, both critics of legalization, appear to be preparing the entire state for a legalization of marijuana they see as an inevitable policy shift regardless of their actions.

GettyImages-458762014 New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to instruct NYPD to stop arrests of New Yorkers smoking weed in public while additionally forming a task force to ease what he sees as an inevitable full-on legalization of recreational marijuana. Spencer Platt: Getty Images

"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," he told the Daily News. "While I still have real concerns we must work through, it isn't difficult to see where this is headed, and any responsible policymaker must prepare for that eventuality. My focus now will be helping to craft the critical regulatory framework that must come before legalization is realized."

Although marijuana would still remain illegal in New York City, the initial policy step in stopping public pot smoking arrests is intended to reduce a statistic uncovered by the The New York Times that black people are eight times more likely to be arrested on misdemeanor marijuana charges than white, non-Hispanic New Yorkers. In Manhattan alone, black people were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people. A specific date for when public pot smoking arrests would stop was not released, but the move would be part of a 30-day review de Blasio ordered of racial disparities in marijuana arrests.

Last week, de Blasio told WNYC radio he has a "great fear" that the "corporatization of the marijuana industry" could echo that of the U.S. tobacco industry's flagrant targeting of children prior to the 1970s. This statement came after U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer announced his plan to make federal marijuana law reforms and the Democratic party discussed making a legalization endorsement as part of their 2018 platform. Cuomo told a Brooklyn crowd Thursday that the legalization of recreational pot “for all intents and purposes it is going to be here anyway...the facts have changed."

But Cuomo, the long-time opponent of legalizing recreational weed, only announced his seemingly newfound support for the issue one day after rival Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Cynthia Nixon said in a Wednesday video, "We have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity."

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' (NORML) Political Director Justin Strekal issued a statement to Newsweek Monday responding to de Blasio's stated intentions: 

“It is encouraging to see Mayor DeBlasio’s evolution regarding the criminal status of marijuana and hope that the City Council will swiftly reinforce this policy directive with legislation to completely remove criminal and civil penalties for possession and expunge prior cannabis possession convictions. With a clear public mandate in support of outright legalization for New York City, it is time to remove the ability for law enforcement to continue harassing otherwise law abiding citizens, particularly people of color.”

In November 2014, first-term Mayor de Blasio and then-police commissioner Bill Bratton announced the city's plan to start giving out tickets and court summonses rather than making citywide arrests of New Yorkers for possession of 25 grams and under of the substance still regarded as a Schedule I drug by federal authorities. The new guidelines for officers were intended to reduce time spent on petty crimes.

This article has been updated with a statement from the marijuana law reform group, NORML.

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