One day after revealing his plans to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed that he opposes legalizing the drug – as well as any other illicit narcotic.
Bloomberg said his stance is partially determined by the fact that marijuana is now stronger than it used to be, thereby impairing drug users to a much greater extent. He also believes that if marijuana were legalized, drug dealers would start selling more serious narcotics like cocaine, he relayed in his weekly WOR Radio show on Friday.
But while he opposes the legalization of marijuana, he also supports the decriminalization of using the drug and possessing small amounts of it. Bloomberg on Thursday announced a new marijuana policy that will drastically reduce the penalties of being caught with the drug. The policy closely mirrors a statewide legislation that has not yet been passed, but that the mayor predicts will eventually become law. This legislation would decriminalize all marijuana possession under 15 grams.
The statement has come as a surprise, since the mayor previously stated his strict opposition to both its legalization and decriminalization. Even though Bloomberg admitted to having smoked marijuana in his youth and having enjoyed it, he made sure the New York Police Department strictly enforced drug laws since he has been in office.
“[I am] a believer that we should enforce the laws, and I do not think that decriminalizing marijuana is a good idea,” the mayor told the New York Times in 2002. But more than 400,000 low-level marijuana arrests later, Bloomberg has changed his mind.
Under Bloomberg’s new policy, New York City police will no longer be allowed to detain people overnight for possessing small amounts of marijuana, nor will they be able to charge them with a misdemeanor. New York currently conducts more marijuana-related arrests than any other US city, according to the state’s Civil Liberties Union. But those who possess small amounts of marijuana will simply be charged with a “violation”.
In the state of New York, a violation is an offense that is not considered a crime and therefore cannot go on someone’s criminal record. The maximum punishment for a violation is 15 days in jail. Bloomberg considers his policy crucial to avoid further imprisoning light marijuana users while the statewide bill continues to be discussed.
“Until the (state) legislation is passed, this is an important step that will spare thousands of New Yorkers from the harm of spending a night in jail,” Steven Banks, the top lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, told Reuters.
Individuals found possessing small amounts of marijuana will simply be issued a ticket for a short desk appearance at a court, as long as they have no outstanding warrants and a valid ID on them.
The initiative would likely save New York significant amounts of money: in the last decade since Bloomberg became mayor, the NYPD has made 400,038 low-level marijuana possession arrests, according to a report by the Drug Policy Alliance. These arrests have cost the city $600 million dollars. And with increased marijuana usage in the past few years, there has been a steady increase in arrests.
But despite Bloomberg’s efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession, he still stands firmly opposed to its legalization due to fear that more serious drug usage will emerge.