(MintPress) – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is following Governor Andrew Cuomo’s lead in promoting legislation that would decriminalize small amounts of public marijuana possession, drawing praise from civil rights organizations that see it as a move away from the New York Police Department’s heavy stop-and-frisk measures – but not necessarily a total solution.
Arrests for small amounts of marijuana last year rose to 50,000 in what many saw as a direct result of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk tactics, which largely targeted African Americans and Hispanics, giving police the authority to stop and search anyone deemed suspicious.
In 2011 alone, the NYPD conducted nearly 700,000 stops – nearly 42 percent of which were carried out on black and Latino males within the ages of 14 and 24, according to an New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) press release. Eighty-seven percent of stops, in all, were conducted on black and Latino residents.
The stop-and-frisk policy allows police officers to stop and search anyone deemed to be acting in a suspicious manner — a term activist groups, including the NYLU, claims is too vague.
Cuomo on Monday gathered with legislators, district attorneys and law enforcement to push for legislation that levels the playing field when it comes to penalties for small amounts of marijuana possession, creating equal penalties for those caught with the drug in private and public areas.
In a press release, Cuomo stated his motivation behind such legislation, citing a need to draw down stop-and-frisk measures that overwhelmingly target minority youth.
“Today’s announcement is about creating fairness and consistency in our laws since there is a blatant inconsistency in the way we deal with small amounts of marijuana possession,” Cuomo said.
Sheldon Silver, the Democratic assembly speaker, went so far as to say the NYPD has unfairly used the public marijuana possession law to target young people and carry out stop-and-frisk tactics, echoing sentiments shared by his fellow Democrats in the New York legislature.
“What governor Cuomo is proposing is a logical and, unfortunately, necessary clarification of the law as it exists today,” Silver said. “It has become clear that marijuana possession is being used, regrettably, to permanently scar and taint the records of thousands of young citizens, predominantly people of color, who have no record of prior criminal conviction.”
While Cuomo and Silver’s statements come as no surprise, Bloomberg’s support has – and is being pegged as important to those who say he has sway among his Republican base. Bloomberg, who has been encouraged by provisions in the bill that still allow for arrests of those found smoking small amounts of marijuana in public places.
“The governor’s proposal today is consistent with the commissioner’s directive, and strikes the right balance by ensuring that the NYPD will continue to have the tools it needs to maintain public safety — including making arrests for selling or smoking marijuana,” Bloomberg said in a statement.
Bloomberg indicated in his statement he plans to work alongside Cuomo to encourage legislators to pass the new marijuana bill before the session wraps up. The piece of legislation was introduced Tuesday.
Bloomberg’s endorsement of the bill has African American and Civil Rights activists from throughout the nation pleased, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Bloomberg’s stance on the marijuana provision is not exactly a sign that he’s pulling support for the controversial stop-and-frisk practices of the NYPD. Bloomberg has been noted as praising the program, on in which he sees as responsible for a sharp decline in crime over the last 10 years. In his statement, he indicated that the release of such marijuana possessions from misdemeanor status would allow NYPD officers to direct attention to more pressing legal issues.
“By preventing these crimes, and targeting police resources to where they are needed most, we have cut crime by 35 percent over the past decade,” Bloomberg said.