A first step ' but only that

Lighter penalties for marijuana possession an important move forward toward the legalization of the substance


As attitudes toward marijuana continue to ease toward acceptance nationwide, New York City is jumping on the bandwagon – or least, looking in its direction.

Though the substance remains illegal statewide, low-level possession of marijuana will no longer result in an arrest but rather a ticket.

This change would prove crucial in preventing individuals from seeing their lives needlessly upended as a result of an excessive arrest – individuals like Anthony Welfare, who as The New York Times reported, lost his job after a police officer saw a pipe with a residue of marijuana, in a car in which Welfare was a passenger.

Welfare lost his job as a result – even now, several months later with the charge dismissed and his record now clean, he hasn’t been hired back.

Such stories are too common, and too frustrating to be ignored.

And fortunately, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has directed his attention at the issue.

With the announcement of the new, more lenient policy toward marijuana possession, it’s clear that de Blasio and his administration have accepted that not all drug-related crimes merit an arrest – especially when in some states, like Washington and Colorado, where said “crimes” are now legal.

It’s an important development that helps shift the priorities of law enforcement toward more pressing matters, and is a critical change in helping to equalize the treatment of minorities in the city.

This new policy follows the near-elimination of the discriminatory and excessive stop-and-frisk procedures that were once the norm in New York City and largely targeted minorities.

Similarly, small-scale marijuana arrests have occurred predominately in black and Latino communities.

According to The New York Times, individuals who are black or Hispanic have made up 86 percent of the arrests for marijuana possession in the city.

Eliminating this form of arrest will eliminate yet another mode of discrimination and persecution – not to mention prosecution – experienced by New York City’s minority groups and, hopefully, help to build upon the improvements generated by the elimination of stop-and-frisk.

It may be too much to hope for that this policy suggests greater lenience toward marijuana in general – that it could be at the very least the beginning of a conversation about legalization. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that legalizing the substance could lead to closer monitoring of distribution and an influx of revenues from taxes on the drug.

In a city surely still smarting from the death of a black Staten Island man, who died after being held in a chokehold during an arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes, de Blasio’s announcement is a much needed reassurance.

De Blasio’s new policy indicates that the mayor and his administration are aware of the problems associated with the city’s law enforcement and are willing to take action to combat the issue.

Although the mayor may be announcing a more lenient policy regarding marijuana, his stance toward New York City’s law enforcement and its troublesome reputation is clearly as tough as ever – and rightly so.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com