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Stop Making Criminals Out of Young People

Thursday, 26 April 2012 12:44 PM EDT

In 1977 in New York, personal possession and use of marijuana were decriminalized. So why were 525,000 people arrested for such possession and use since then?

In 1977, I was the principal congressional sponsor in the House of Representatives of legislation that created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. The commission examined the aspects of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana.

 Michael Phelps faced a wave of negative publicity in 2009 — but no charges — after a photo of the gold medalist showed him with a pipe commonly used for marijuana.
(Getty Images)
My interest in pursuing the examination of the issues came as a result of millions of Americans having experimented and used the drug for recreational purposes, there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions, particularly young people, who, over the course of time had been convicted of usage and had criminal records that would follow them for the rest of their lives.

The commission which became known as the Shafer Commission recommended decriminalization for personal use and possession of marijuana in a limited amount.

Eight or nine states, New York being one of them, accepted the report and according to The New York Times in its editorial of April 2, “Under the 1977 law, possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana is a violation, subject to a $100 fine for the first offense. But possession of any amount that is in public view is a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. Civil rights lawyers say that many of those stopped by city police were arrested after officers told them to empty their pockets, which brought the small amount of drugs into view.”

However, reports the editorial, “Marijuana arrests declined after passage of the 1977 law, but that changed in the 1990s. Between 1997 and 2010, the city arrested 525,000 people for low-level, public-view possession, according to a legislative finding.”

In effect, the editorial is stating the arresting cop can cause the offense to become a misdemeanor by requiring the individual to empty his pockets and publicly display the marijuana. This is an outrage, if The Times is correct. Even if the public display is otherwise inadvertent or the foolish act of a person, particularly a young person, it should not constitute a criminal act.

The issue has heated up because as The Times editorial pointed out, “80 percent of those arrested in the city are black and Latino, despite substantial data showing that whites are more likely to use the drug.”

The answer is obvious. The state legislature should make public possession of a small amount for personal use a violation instead of a misdemeanor. Violations are not listed as crimes.

Let’s stop making criminals out of our young men and women, giving them criminal records which will prevent them from getting jobs and ruin their lives.

Edward Koch was the 105th mayor of New York City for three terms, from 1978 to 1989. He previously served for nine years as a congressman. Read more reports from Ed Koch — Click Here Now.

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Thursday, 26 April 2012 12:44 PM
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