Police Commissioner Says Marijuana Order Came After Allegations of Improper Arrests

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says he had heard multiple allegations that his officers were skirting the law when charging people for misdemeanor marijuana possession — but he says he doesn't know if they are true.

Kelly was answering a question at a news conference about why he issued an internal order last week reminding officers that they should not make a misdemeanor arrest for marijuana possession if the drug comes into public view only after police have ordered a suspect to empty his pockets or pulled the drugs out of the suspect's clothing themselves.

"The allegation was made. So in order to clear up any confusion that may exist, we put that order out to make certain that officers know that they cannot be the reason for someone displaying it publicly," Kelly said.

The operations order issued on September 19 reminds police officers that possessing a small amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor in New York state only if the drug is publicly displayed. Further, it stated, "A crime will not be charged to any individual who is requested or compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marihuana." 

A WNYC investigation in April found police may be arresting people for publicly displaying marijuana after either ordering suspects to empty their pockets or illegally searching suspects during stop-and-frisks.  

"What the order was meant to do was to clarify that that's not the appropriate way to make an arrest for misdemeanor," said Kelly.

Instead, the order states, the public display of marijuana "must be an activity undertaken of the subject's own volition."

Kelly said he would not comment on a New York Times editorial published Tuesday calling for a federal investigation into hundreds of thousands of possibly improper marijuana arrests made over the last decade and a half.