A 1977 New York state law makes it a violation to possess 25 grams or less of marijuana, resulting in a penalty of $100 for the first offense. However, drug charges involving possession of any amount of marijuana in public view is a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.

Readers in the White Plains area will be interested to hear that several hundred people in New York City may have been unlawfully arrested and charged with possession of marijuana in public view. In many cases, individuals who were dealt the misdemeanor charges had been stopped by city police and told to empty their pockets, bringing the small amount of drugs into view. Once the drugs were in view of the public, some of the officers increased the charges from a violation to a misdemeanor.

In such cases, it appears that people being charged with the low-level drug crimes were essentially set up by the police. In previous posts on this blog, we’ve discussed similar situations involving marijuana arrests.

In addition, substantial data has shown that white people are more likely to use marijuana than other groups. However, more than 80 percent of the 525,000 individuals arrested for low-level public-view possession in New York City between 1997 and 2010 are black and Latino.

According to state data, more than 50,000 people were arrested last year for low-level possession. About 30 percent of those people had no prior arrest record and more than 11,700 of the individuals were 16 to 19 years old. Of those charged, more than half had never been arrested before.

It’s important for New Yorkers to understand their rights and know that the police may not always be looking out for their best interests. A solid criminal defense will closely scrutinize the circumstances of an arrest and place the full burden of proof squarely on the prosecution.

Source: The New York Times, “Examining Marijuana Arrests,” April 1, 2012