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Commissioner Raymond Kelly of the New York Police Department came forthwith too little, too late when he issued a memo directing officers not to arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana unless the drug is in plain public view. A 1977 law decriminalized minor possession, yet tens of thousands are arrested every year.
In 2010, more than 50,000 people were arrested for possession of marijuana; a vast majority of them were racial minorities and male. Civil rights lawyers say that many of them were stopped as part of the Police Department’s broad stop-and-frisk practice and were arrested after officers told them to empty their pockets, which brought the drugs into open view.
The United States Justice Department and New York lawmakers should investigate the legality of practices that led to the arrests of hundreds of thousands of people since the mid-1990s.