New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his commitment this week to ending the so-called public view loophole in the state’s cannabis laws. While New York decriminalized cannabis possession in 1977, people who carry cannabis visibly are still subject to arrest and prosecution.
Cuomo, in his State of the State Book, which outlines his agenda for 2017, says the proposal is in line with his existing “commitment to reduce the number of nonviolent individuals who become entangled in the criminal justice system.”
The state’s existing decriminalization law doesn’t apply to cannabis either found in public view or burning. That loophole has made for some strange consequences, as AM New York reports, especially during New York City’s stop-and-frisk security policy:
What it means to burn marijuana was clear: smoking. The “public view” part was less so. That could mean walking around with a fairly big bag of marijuana in your hand. But, as it turned out, marijuana was also in “public view” after police officers asked you to empty your pockets, leading you to display a dime-bag.
This led to particular complaints from New Yorkers during the proactive policing days launched by William Bratton, especially at the height of stop-and-frisk policing in the 90s, when police officers posted in communities of color were directed to perform many stops. The loophole led to many arrests, for a drug that was supposedly decriminalized.
Enforcement of the public view loophole has impacted communities of color most severely. More than 83 percent of individuals arrested statewide in 2015 were people of color, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Defense lawyers cheered Cuomo’s proposal to address the loophole.
“Our clients can lose their jobs, homes, and children, and even be detained by immigration authorities and deported for this offense, which a majority of Americans believe should be legal,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, a legal group that in 2016 represented “1,070 of the many thousands of New Yorkers arrested for low-level cannabis possession.” Of those, 85 percent were black or Latino, and 371 were under 21.
“We applaud any legislation that will reduce or—better—eliminate these senseless and discriminatory arrests,” Schreibersdorf said.
Cuomo cited the costliness of cannabis possession arrests as one of the factors behind the proposal. A 2011 analysis commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance found that cannabis possession arrests cost the New York City alone roughly $75 million per year.
More than 800,000 New Yorkers have been arrested for low-level cannabis possession offenses in the last 20 years, according to the DPA. Many of those people still have criminal arrest records that frustrate their abilities to find work or qualify for public services.