Governor Cuomo's marijuana decriminalization bill may have failed in Albany this week but that doesn't mean the issue is up in smoke, as a court battle is now brewing. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.
The Legal Aid Society has defended thousands of people who say they were wrongfully arrested for having small amounts of marijuana. Now, it's taking legal action on behalf of all of them at once.
"We are left with no choice but to go to the court to protect New Yorkers from the harm that is occurring every day on the streets with improper arrests from the police department," said Steven Banks with the Legal Aid Society.
On Friday, Legal Aid filed a complaint asking the state courts to make clear that cops cannot arrest people who have less than 25 grams of marijuana on them unless it's out in the open. Governor Cuomo was pushing a bill that would make having that small amount a simple violation, whether the drug was concealed or not. A person would only get a ticket instead of being arrested.
"Could affect their ability to get a job, their ability to maintain their housing, their ability to get educational loans, their ability to stay in this country," Banks said.
The mayor, police commissioner and the city's five district attorneys backed the governor's proposal but Republican state lawmakers didn't go along with it.
Inspector Kerry Sweet, the head of the NYPD's legal bureau, said officers have to follow the current law and must make an arrest if the marijuana is in the open at the time of a stop.
"If there are legislative changes, we will adjust and adapt our policies to meet those legislative changes," Sweet said. "Right now, the law states what the law states and we enforce those laws."
In September of last year, the police commissioner actually put out an order to officers not to arrest people for having small amounts of marijuana if it was concealed and only found during a stop-and-frisk or search of the person.
The Bronx DA says he'll take a close look at any arrest that comes to his office.
State lawmakers could re-address the issue when they start their new session in January.