A bizarre contradiction in New York City’s new cannabis policies has all but decriminalized cannabis flower while leaving possession of hash oil as a jailable offense.
Drug reform advocates started celebrating earlier this year when the New York City Police Department and District Attorney both agreed to stop arresting and charging people for small time cannabis possession. They were even true to their word: weed possession charges dropped a staggering 90% from last year to this year.
However, this silver lining’s got a big heavy cloud. Getting busted with a little cannabis flower in New York will, at worst, get you a court summons. But if you get caught in possession of hash oil you can get stuck with a class A misdemeanor charge, as reported by VICE and nonprofit criminal justice news site The Appeal.
Because NYC considers hash oil a controlled substance, this can result in the same charge someone would get for small time heroin or crack possession. That can carry a sentence of up to a year in jail. Two ounces of flower, on the other hand, would generally result in a maximum 90 days in jail.
This is not a hypothetical. Public defenders in Brooklyn told The Appeal that the DA’s office have prosecuted at least 22 THC and CBD oil cases since September 1. Of those, at least eight were pretextual car stops, when cops pull someone they find “suspicious” over on the pretext of a traffic violation, and then charge them with whatever they can
NYPD had become notorious for pulling these kinds of shenanigans, which is exactly why they were directed to stop making cannabis arrests anymore.
Racial profiling is still a major problem in the city’s cannabis law enforcement. The Drug Policy Alliance reports that of the summonses issued for cannabis flower possession, 80% of those are issued to people of color.
The Appeal has reached out to NYPD for clarification about their policies. While the department issued an overview of their new approach, they did not respond to questions about why they were still making hash oil arrests or how officers were able to tell the difference between a vape pen loaded with cannabis oil and one loaded with a legal substance such as nicotine.
Photo via Flickr user Krzysztof Belczyński