Over the past decade, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has come under fire for almost exclusively enforcing marijuana prohibition laws against people of color, while allowing white people to puff in peace. New York City officials attempted to solve the problem with decriminalization policies, but despite these efforts, the proportion of minorities arrested for minor pot crimes continued to grow, eventually climbing as high as 94 percent in 2020.
But now that New York state has finally ended its war on weed, those days are over. As of last Wednesday, it is legal for any adult in the state to carry and use up to three ounces of flower, or 24 grams of concentrate. And now that pot is legal, every law enforcement agency in the state needs to change its ways.
On Thursday, NYPD officials sent a memo to all officers explaining the new rules regarding cannabis enforcement. Under the new law, adults are allowed to smoke weed anywhere that tobacco smoking is legal. The memo advises cops that they are not allowed to “approach, stop, summons, arrest or search” anyone who is smoking weed “on sidewalks, on front stoops and other public places,” Marijuana Moment reports.
The days of police using the aroma of cannabis as an excuse to conduct a search or traffic stop are also over. Officers cannot stop and frisk a person because they smell like weed, nor can they conduct a vehicle search on the basis of weed odor. “The smell of marihuana alone no longer establishes probable cause of a crime to search a vehicle,” the memo clearly states.
Of course, driving while stoned remains prohibited, and cops have leeway to investigate anyone who they believe could be driving under the influence. If police see a driver smoking weed, or other evidence of weed intoxication, they have the right to make a sobriety check. However, the memo explains that the vehicle's trunk “may not be searched unless the officer develops separate probable cause to believe the trunk contains evidence of a crime,” CNN reports.
Licensed retail sales are not expected to begin until December of 2022, and all sales of cannabis remain illegal until that time. It is legal to give up to 3 ounces of weed to another person for free, though, so cops are advised that they cannot arrest someone for selling weed unless they actually see cash change hands.
The memo also says that anyone who is currently on parole is legally able to smoke weed, unless the conditions of their parole specifically prohibit it.
The new cannabis law applies only to adults over 21, but as the NYPD memo notes, there are no longer any rules in place for enforcing underage pot use. For the time being, this means that cops cannot bust anyone under 21 for carrying weed or smoking it in public.
“In the future, the NYPD may have the ability to issue a civil summons for such violations,” the memo says, according to Marijuana Moment. “Until that time, possession of 3 ounces or less by a person under 21 cannot be the basis of an approach, stop, summons, juvenile report or arrest. Possession by individuals under 21 of more than 3 ounces is enforceable.”