Governor Andrew Cuomo is making a move that could drastically reduce the number of people arrested for marijuana possession as a result of police stop-and-frisks.
The governor asked the state Legislature Monday to change state law reducing the penalty for public possession of fewer than 25 grams of marijuana to a violation instead of a misdemeanor.
Smoking marijuana in public would remain a misdemeanor.
Speaking to reporters in Albany, Cuomo called the proposal "long overdue."
Marijuana was decriminalized in New York State in 1977 but there are inconsistencies. Currently, private possession of fewer than 25 grams of marijuana is a violation, even though having that same amount out in the open becomes a misdemeanor that can result in arrest.
Cuomo called the current law and its enforcement inconsistent, as well as a larger problem in the minority community, citing a 94-percent conviction rate.
Last year, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered NYPD officials to not arrest those caught with the drug in their pockets during stop-and-frisk searches.
"I understand the police commissioner's directive, I understand that first I think it puts police in an awkward position to tell them enforce some laws, don't enforce other laws," Cuomo said. "And I think that's a bad precedent, frankly, in general. It's not the job of the police. They're not going to cherry pick which laws they pass."
Advocates for the change argue many have been unfairly arrested after being told by police to empty their pockets, putting the drugs in public view.
"The overwhelming majority of people who have been arrested as a result of the way the statute is currently written come from the black and Latino community," said Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries.
Last year, city police made over 50,000 arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Kelly, who was in Albany for the Monday press conference, said when he was criticized by members of the City Council for marijuana arrests of young people during stop-and-frisks he told them to go to the state capital to get the law changed.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was not at Cuomo's press conference, would not commit to changing the law.
"I haven't seen the bill but like all other program bills that are sent to us, we'll review it," said Skelos.
Some local lawmakers were concerned of the effects if the punishment was altered.
"Well, I have concerns. I mean, a proposal to decriminalize marijuana, even if it's 25 grams, is certainly something that I think sends the wrong message to our youth," said Brooklyn-Staten Island Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican.
Some New Yorkers who spoke with NY1 seemed to agree with the governor's plan.
"I really believe that this little incident can really ruin a person because if they have a small record that doesn't mean they're not trying to get their life together and I really believe it's a very good idea for the governor to do this," said one New Yorker.
"I agree with him because some people make mistakes and when they try to fix things their criminal record sometimes it shows. And I don't think it's worth it half the time 'cause it's something small," noted another.
In a statement, Mayor Michael Bloomberg supported the governor's move, saying it still gives police what they need to maintain public safety, including making arrests for selling or smoking marijuana.