Last Updated: 11:04 PM, June 4, 2012
Posted: 10:17 PM, June 4, 2012
Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to essentially decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of marijuana has merit — but he’s skating on thin public-safety ice.
To be sure, Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly were quick to endorse yesterday’s proposal.
No surprise there: Decriminalization is likely to curb the number of arrests generated by the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk program — which could ease pressure to deep-six the program altogether.
But make no mistake: This initiative could also encourage opponents to ramp up their efforts to kill stop-and-frisk — and Bloomberg, Kelly and (especially) Cuomo need to work extra hard to protect it.
Cuomo’s plan would reduce the possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana in public view from a misdemeanor to a violation, with a maximum fine of $100 for the first offense.
Importantly, no criminal record attaches to a violation — the lowest-level offense in the state Penal Law.
Critics say that too many people stopped on the street for suspicious behavior have been arrested after cops told them to empty their pockets — effectively putting the illegal drugs in public view.
That’s led to tens of thousands of arrests — more than for any other offense. And more than 70 percent of those busted had no prior record, says Cuomo’s office.
Back in 1977, the Legislature reduced the possession of small amounts of marijuana to a violation, retaining the stricter sanction for public smoking or display.
Now Cuomo wants to eliminate the ban on public display; smoking marijuana in public would remain a misdemeanor.
For his part, Kelly clearly realizes that overly zealous enforcement has been a problem. That’s why last September he directed that officers not arrest anyone who did not publicly display marijuana.
Cuomo’s proposal, Bloomberg said yesterday, is “consistent with the commissioner’s directive.”
And, as he correctly noted, New York “has come a long way from the days when marijuana was routinely sold and smoked on our streets without repercussions.”
But it cannot be overstated that stop-and-frisk, though subject to occasional abuse, is an important crime-fighting tool.
As Bloomberg notes, stop-and-frisk has saved an estimated 5,600 lives — and taken thousands of illegal guns off the streets — in recent years.
And as Kelly told a recent City Council hearing: “People are upset about being stopped, yet what is . . . their strategy to get guns off the street?”
Yet it remains under strong political and judicial attack.
To his credit, Cuomo seems interested in fixing problems with stop-and-frisk — not its abolition.
Again, he needs to take care not to embolden critics — most of whom are pursuing political agendas that have little or nothing to do with public safety.