On Thursday morning, Bill Bratton, commissioner of the New York City Police Department, saw a young woman smoking a marijuana cigarette on Wall Street. Along with his security officer, Bratton walked up to the woman and personally yanked the joint out of her mouth before throwing it into a nearby sewer.
"All of a sudden, there it is, that smell," Bratton said, recalling the incident on Friday at a breakfast at the New York Law School. "And I wish I had a photograph of that face. She instantly recognized me," he added, according to the New York Post.
As unsettling as it is that the NYPD's top cop gets a kick out of the idea of ruining someone's morning routine, the outcome of this scenario must sound pretty good to weed smokers around town. Relegated to the indoors for decades following Bratton's first reign of quality of life enforcement—or "broken windows theory"—under Mayor Giuliani in the 1990s, pot enthusiasts engaging in public smoking could, until recently, expect an encounter with a uniformed or undercover cop to result in arrest, a night in booking, and maybe even some childish name-calling.
Now things are trending in the right direction.
Last year, Bratton—alongside Mayor de Blasio—announced that the NYPD would de-prioritize marijuana arrests. He effectively directed America's largest police force to start adhering to the laws of the state they work in, where marijuana possession of 25 grams or less was decriminalized in 1977.
At first it was unclear to New York stoners whether or not it was suddenly safe to blaze outside, though Bratton told VICE last year in an interview soon after the announcement, "If you're smoking a joint, you're going to be arrested." Still, anecdotal accounts from this reporter's social circle suggest that, yes, it is more OK to smoke weed publicly than it was before. Still, cops will be cops, and Bratton is big on being a cop. Even after promising to reduce marijuana arrests, he publicly blamed weed for a spike in murders and insisted that we need broken windows policing "now more than ever."
That Bratton is personally demonstrating some latitude on weed is a good thing, though. As he told the audience at the New York Law School Friday, "If you're smoking it in public we will potentially arrest you, but we encourage officers to use the scale they are authorized to use—warning, admonitions, summons, arrest if necessary."
But the one thing that won't automatically change with laws and enforcement practices is the social stigma regarding pot in New York. Weed is a massive business here and a whole lot of New Yorkers smoke, but it will continue to be seen as illicit so long as our police perpetuate the idea that it's dangerous and people deserve to be hassled for using it. It's a damn shame that a guy with such a regressive view on weed—relative to some other big-city cops, at least—is still deciding how it's perceived on the street level.
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