Wall Street Journal
November 11, 2014

Just a Ticket for Small Marijuana Crimes

Policy Shift Helps Mayor Bill de Blasio Keep Campaign Pledge

By Pervaiz Shallwani

People stopped for low-level marijuana possession in New York City will now be issued tickets instead of being arrested, officials said Monday, a policy change that reflects Mayor Bill de Blasio ’s pledge to repair relations between police and minority residents.

Advocates—including prosecutors and community leaders—have long pushed state and local officials to address arrests for small amounts of marijuana that use up officers’ time, generate court costs and have a damaging social impact on people with no prior criminal record.

Police Commissioner William Bratton said the policy would go into effect Nov. 19.

Under the new policy, officers will be directed to issue a court summons to people found in possession of 25 grams or fewer of marijuana, officials said. The summons would essentially be like a citation for public urination—something one has to take care of with a court appearance and potential fine but not something that results in an arrest, a trip to the precinct station for fingerprinting and a criminal record, officials said.

Twenty-five grams of marijuana is less than an ounce and would fill about half a sandwich bag, Mr. Bratton said at a news conference, holding up a bag filled with oregano. It has a street value of about $300, Mr. Bratton said.

There are several exceptions. Arrests will still be made when people are caught in the act of smoking or burning marijuana; have an outstanding warrant; are wanted for questioning in a crime; or are unable to produce identification, Mr. Bratton said.