Back in 1977, middle class, white New Yorkers got frustrated over being criminalized for smoking weed, so they got the state legislature to decriminalized simple possession of weed -- merely having weed in your possession became a civil infraction and if you were caught, you might get a ticket, but that's it.
But the NYPD liked weed busts. Lots of people smoke weed and black people are people, and the NYPD hates black people. When weed possession was a criminal offense, it gave the NYPD broad leeway to put black people in jail, provided they were unlucky enough to be in possession of even small amounts of marijuana.
The NY legislature left a loophole in their decriminalization law, in order to win support from Republicans: if you had weed "open to public view" you could be charged with a crime.
Here's where the NYPD comes in: when Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg told the NYPD that they were allowed to practice "stop and frisk" (where mostly black people, minding their own business, are repeatedly mugged by the NYPD and forced to turn out their pockets), the cops figured out that if they made you empty your pockets, and there was weed in those pockets, then the weed would be "open to public view" and they could arrest you.
The NYPD have been ordered to cut this shit out. They haven't. Busts continue to this day.
Even after Mr. Kelly’s 2011 order, defense lawyers say the arrests continued, though the overall number of marijuana arrests began falling. To stop arrests for carrying a small stash, Mr. de Blasio in 2014 forced a new policy on the Police Department saying that even openly possessing marijuana should not lead to an arrest.
“Not only did some court not strike down that kind of conduct, but when the police commissioner tells the people with badges and guns to do or not do something, they don’t obey the order,” Mr. Gottfried said. “I’ve always found that pretty scary. It leads you to question the effectiveness of civilian control of uniformed forces.”
In recent months, advocates and elected officials have protested the disproportionate number of black and Hispanic people arrested for marijuana possession.
It Wasn’t a Crime to Carry Marijuana. Until the Police Found a Loophole. [Benjamin Mueller/NYT]