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New York: Governor Endorses Legislation To Halt Tens Of Thousands Of Marijuana Possession Arrests

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Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo has endorsed a legislative effort to equalize marijuana possession penalties, regardless of whether the cannabis is possessed in private or in public view.

Governor Cuomo announced his support at a press conference on Monday. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly are also backing the effort.

Under state law, the private possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal civil citation, punishable by a $100 fine. By contrast, the possession of any amount of cannabis in public view is a criminal misdemeanor [NY State Penal Law 221.10].

In 2011, New York City law enforcement spent $75 million arresting approximately 50,000 minor marijuana offenders under Penal Law 221.10. Many of these offenders had marijuana on their person, and only revealed the cannabis publicly after being ordered by police to empty their pockets during ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches. According to the governor's office, 94 percent of arrests for small amounts of marijuana in the state are in New York City.

Over 85 percent of those charged are either African American or Latino.

Governor Cuomo said that the present law is “incongruous” and “disproportionately” effects black and Hispanic youth.

Bipartisan legislation pending in the state legislature – Senate Bill 5187 and Assembly Bill 7620 – would equalize minor marijuana possession penalties to a non-criminal, fine-only offense. According to the Associated Press, Cuomo's forthcoming proposal differs slightly from these measures because it would retain criminal misdemeanor penalties for cannabis smoking in public.

State lawmakers are expected to be in session for three more weeks.

Today, a coalition of advocacy groups, including ColorOfChange.org and the Drug Policy Alliance, launched an online advocacy campaign featuring video testimonials from people who the campaign says have been illegally searched or falsely charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in New York City.

The video testimonials are available online here.