Police Commissioner Calls on NYPD to Stop Improper Marijuana Arrests

Friday, September 23, 2011

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has issued an internal order to the New York City Police Department commanding officers to stop arresting people for small amounts of marijuana possession, if the marijuana was never in public view.  The directive comes at a time when the NYPD is taking increasing heat about alleged improper marijuana arrests.

Kelly's Operations Order landed on the desk of police supervisors this week, and a copy of it was provided to WNYC. 

In the order, Kelly stated at the outset: "Questions have been raised about the processing of certain marijuana arrests.  At issue is whether the circumstances under which uniformed members of the service recover small amounts of marijuana ... from subjects in a public place support the charge of Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fifth Degree."

NYPD sources tell WNYC it's the first time Kelly internally addressed the issue of improper marijuana arrests to the entire department since a WNYC investigation in April found police officers may have been recovering marijuana on people through illegal searches.  

In New York, possession of small amounts of marijuana is only a criminal offense if it is displayed in public. Kelly's order reminds officers that if marijuana comes into public view at the direction of an officer — either when an officer pulls the drug out of a person's clothes or a person is ordered by an officer to empty out his pockets — it's not a misdemeanor, and instead should only be treated as a violation, which is a ticketable offense.

More than 85 percent of those arrested for marijuana in New York City are blacks and Latinos in the poorest neighborhoods where the highest rates of stop-and-frisk occur.  National studies show young whites smoke pot more than blacks and Latinos of the same age.

Kelly's directive arrives just as City Council members and legislators in Albany are calling for an end to improper marijuana arrests.  A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the state legislature that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession in public view.  Bill sponsors Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and State Senator Mark Grisanti said they hope the proposed law will reduce incentives for police to improperly recover marijuana from people to make misdemeanor arrests.

NYPD did not respond to a request for comment

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Comments [23]

Dr. Barbara Zinnamon from Bedstuy - Brownsville

Marijuana cures cancer.

Apr. 29 2013 08:50 PM
Jonah Freedman from nyc

Marijuana cures cancer! look it up. harvard study, simpson oil, science friday,

Oct. 23 2012 11:07 PM
karen from md

fred from brooklyn-maybe you might try telling the government to legalize marijuana and wham-maybe theyll do it.(smile)

Mar. 28 2012 05:32 PM
Jim from Queens

Had a similar situation to KB from Brooklyn, except my career is in jeopardy. I was pulled over for a broken tail light. The cops came to the vehicle and said they smell weed. (I do smoke but I NEVER smoked in the car)They then decided to search my car. They found a bag of weed, the arm rest. According to the law, I was only supposed to get a fine, however, the cops doing what they usually do, lied and said the weed was in public view and that I was smoking it. I got arrested and since I work for NYC, it was reported, and now I'm on administrative leave, pending the result of the case. Cops are constantly harassing us (blacks & latinos), and it wasn't the first time I was pulled over and they searched the car. But it happens to be that in this case, there was a bag of weed in the car. If the gov't legalized or decriminalized weed all togher, these cops would not violate are civil rights. All they need to say is that they smell weed to search the car. If it's decriminalize, so what they smell weed, it's decriminalize. The problem is the different degrees in the marijuana law. These cops will always find a way to arrest us. The law should be plain and simple, anyone with the possession of weed (under 25g), whether it's in public view or not should only get a fine, not an arrest, which can put a hard working person's career in danger. Example: Just like drinking alcohol in public.

Mar. 16 2012 02:05 PM
Dr. Barbara Zinnamon


Dec. 05 2011 06:54 AM
kb from Brooklyn

Well, i guess all of the NYPD officers did not get the memo, my brother was just arrested in the 79th pct for illegal poss. of marijuana. We were driving down the road and pulled over in a gas station to use the cell phone to make a text. As he attempted to compose a text message on his phone within 1min after we pulled in the gas station, an undercover car pulls up. The officers explain that were in a high crime area and wanted to search us and the car for weapons and drugs, my brother being the driver, replied to officers : "officer I apologized for stopping in the gas station that is a high crime area, im clearing not from this area,(as he showed the officer his driver license for proof of address) I just pulled over to use my cell phone, to get some information, but I do not consent to any searches." The officer replied "ok your gonna get the F*** out of the car now." And we did without any resistanse. Going through all of his pockets, they retrieved a small amount of marijuana that was weighing less than 2 grams from his leg pocket of his sweat pants. Detained for 10 hours then released with a D.A.T.

Dec. 04 2011 07:45 AM
LASIS Blog from Manhattan

After Comm. Kelly's new order re marijuana arrests, we discuss the legality of possession of marijuana

Oct. 06 2011 12:15 PM
Alafair Burke

The relevant New York statute actually uses the "marihuana" spelling.

Oct. 02 2011 09:03 AM
jamesnimmo from Oklahoma

Keep up the good work, WNYC! Though I don't live in NYC I'm listen on the website.

Sep. 27 2011 11:10 PM
mary soilex from QUEENS

NEIN! DAS reefers are bad i say und cause mental cases, I see it all the time, und i believe it is wrong. Reefger madness is rampant i say...und the young need to apply themselves to prudent more marijuanna i say,,,its vile und evil.

Sep. 27 2011 07:31 PM
Greg from NY, NY 10023

So they will no longer arrest you for possession of "Marihuana".

But they will continue to arrest you for marijuana.

We have such bright people leading our police force!!

Sep. 27 2011 05:10 PM

great, 19% unemployment for blacks, an increasingly bad employment picture for everyone else, and this is what our tax dollars are spent on - a bleeping joint from someone's pocket. And we have our tax dollars spent on jailing up people for non violent pot offenses, just brilliant.

Sep. 27 2011 05:02 PM
Smegmazor from Bronx, NY

Hey Victor

I found your comment about us American "fairies" filing lawsuits in reaction to our daughters being raped, very amusing. Tell us, should we instead organize a public event and have our daughters stoned to death for having the audacity to be raped and bringing shame down on the family name?

Hmmm, very manly indeed.

Sep. 26 2011 04:10 PM

I think it is a very good order from the Police commissioner. We have too many youth being convicted of Misdemeanors for having a small amount of marijuana in their possession. This will haunt our society, especially when the youth are turned down for jobs because they have a conviction for the nonviolent crime. Kids are placed on Probation in Juvenile Court and their lives can be significantly changed for the worst as a result of entering the formal criminal justice system.

Sep. 26 2011 02:15 PM
Merryl Beesom

Such a simple thing will also save NYC a lot of taxpayer money in the bargain. Smart decision. Finally.

Sep. 25 2011 02:19 PM
JmO from Brooklyn, NY

I have a friend who lives on eastern parkway who has been stopped and frisked 3 times in the past month...BTW he is white. I live in park slope and never been stopped in 12 years...

Sep. 24 2011 04:37 PM

Marijuana is a controversial subject but like nearly everything we ingest on this planet it contains positives and negative effects. The sooner people realize this the sooner we can come to a middle ground on the issue. Though it is unclear where this middle ground will be I just hope people learn to swallow their pride and resolve this issue in a civil manner.

_________ doesn't hurt people, people hurt people.

Sep. 24 2011 12:22 PM

Ah, you Americans and your police state. You call this a victory? :) What a pathetic country. Your police could rape all your daughters today and what would you do tomorrow? File a lawsuit like a bunch of fairies. Too bad the only men left in this world and muslims! They'll save your country from the police state in the end, that is the irony. White boy is way too whipped like a turdshake.

Sep. 24 2011 11:03 AM
Brian from JC from Jersey City

Thank you Alisa Chang, thank you Harry Levine, and thank you WNYC for pressing the issue. All with a big assist from the power of modern technology and ordinary citizens recording the questionable frisks on their cell phones. Clearly some of those higher up at WNYC have their hearts in the right place, regarding civil liberties and marijuana in general.

Sep. 24 2011 05:24 AM

Drug dealers and organized crime rejoices!

Sep. 24 2011 03:11 AM
Harry Levine

This is Harry Levine from the Marijuana Arrest Research Project.

We have worked with the terrific Ailsa Chang to reveal what the NYPD has been doing in making the many biased marijuana arrests, stop and frisks, and illegal searches.

This week we put up a new web site:

An on line library of information about
marijuana arrests, race, and police policy in New York City.

It has pictures, graphs, tables, videos, links, and actual words.

Check it out.

Sep. 24 2011 03:10 AM

Why don't these guys know how to spell marijuana??!

Sep. 23 2011 05:06 PM
Fred from Brooklyn

I was just telling some people the other night that what Ray Kelly should do is stop all these illeagal marijuana arrestes and WHAM! He does it.

Sep. 23 2011 04:44 PM

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