Justice

Woody Harrelson and SNL React Perfectly to NYC's New Relaxed Marijuana Laws

November 17th 2014

By:
ATTN: Staff

Woody Harrelson hosted Saturday Night Live this past weekend and his skit about marijuana reform hit the nail on the head. In case you haven't heard, big changes are on the horizon for small-time drug offenders in New York City. 

At a press conference last Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and police commissioner Bill Bratton announced the New York Police Department would stop making arrests for low-level marijuana possession and encourage its officers to issue tickets and court summonses instead. The NYPD currently arrests tens of thousands of people every year with no prior convictions for having small amounts of the drug. SNL reacted perfectly: 

Beginning November 19th, people found with 25 grams or less of marijuana will be subject to a fine and a summons, bumping possession down from a crime to something similar to a traffic citation. The first summons will be for $100, and the second within three years will be $250. This does little to change marijuana usage laws in New York, however. People found smoking pot, or with an amount exceeding the personal usage threshold will still be subject to arrest, as well as people with pot that have outstanding warrants or no identification. Police officers will still use their discretion in each case, but City Hall seems to finally be making strides by pushing to curb an endemic climate of arrests for small infractions.  

As of last Monday, according to Capital New York, there were 24,081 arrests this year for smoking and possessing Marijuana in New York City. Mayor de Blasio expressed concern for a widespread punishment practice that outpaces the crime at Monday’s announcement.

“There have been, in some cases, disastrous consequences for individuals and families,” he said. “When an individual is arrested for even the smallest possession of marijuana, it hurts their chances to get a good job, it hurts their chances to get housing, it hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan, it can literally follow them the rest of their lives,” de Blasio said, addressing the black and Latino communities that have long suffered disproportionate attention in low-level marijuana arrests. The comment lends credence to a concern many opponents of low-level drug offenses and mandatory minimum sentences often cite.

De Blasio’s and Bratton’s efforts to reshape the culture of systemically disproportionate effects on minority communities by the NYPD—something the department has long been criticized for—comes as a part of a recent widespread shift in the way our nation’s litigators look at drug offenses. 

The recent midterm elections brought in sweeping victories for proponents of legalizing marijuana in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C., leaving many in other states hopeful.

 

Alex Mierjeski contributed to this story.