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Cuomo moves to further decriminalize marijuana

Governor Andrew Cuomo is proposing the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana found during police searches, to  fix what he  says is a “blatant inconsistency” in New York City’s controversial stop and frisk policy.

Governor Cuomo says New York City’s stop and frisk police procedure has unfairly led to the arrest of thousands of mainly young black and Hispanic men who were caught with possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The arrests often lead to criminal records with lifelong consequences that can prevent the young person from getting college aid, or living in public housing.

Cuomo says current law regards private possession of 25 grams of pot or less as a violation, with a fine of up to $100. He says public possession, especially if it comes to light as the result of a stop and frisk search by police,  should now also be classified in the same way.

“If you possess marijuana privately it’s a violation, if you show it in public it’s a crime,” said Cuomo “It’s incongruous, it’s inconsistent the way it’s been enforced.”

The governor says there’s a difference between possessing marijuana and smoking it in public, or selling the drug, which he thinks should still be classified as crimes.

“Society does want to discourage the use of marijuana in public. Smoking a joint is, I think, a different level of activity than just being in possession of it,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo has the backing of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city’s police chief, Ray Kelley.

The proposed change to the law would also apply to all areas outside of New York City, including upstate and Long Island.

Democrats in the State Assembly support the bill. Assemblyman Hakim Jeffries, with the legislature’s black and Hispanic caucus, says the arrests and their consequences are racially inequitable. He says studies show marijuana use is just as prevalent among affluent white young people.

Cuomo does not yet have agreement for the further decriminalization of marijuana from the Republican-led State Senate.

The governor also stopped short of criticizing New York City’s controversial stop and frisk police policy, saying that’s between the police department and the communities they protect.

And the governor continues to hesitate on whether or not to back bills that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes. He says he considers it an entirely separate matter that he and his staff are still reviewing.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.