By Edith Honan
NEW YORK, Feb 14 (Reuters) - New York City police will no
longer hold people overnight for possessing small amounts of
marijuana, and the city will back a state effort to treat those
cases as violations instead of misdemeanors, Mayor Michael
Bloomberg said on Thursday in his final State of the City
Bloomberg also announced a raft of other initiatives, such
as promoting recharging stations for electric cars and
legalizing for-profit youth hostels, seeking to put a final
stamp on his 12 years in office before departing at the end of
The city's new marijuana policy matches a statewide
legislative initiative that has stalled in the state capital.
Bloomberg said he acted now so that fewer young men will be
saddled with a criminal record. He also said it would allow
police to better use resources.
"Until the (state) legislation is passed, this is an
important step that will spare thousands of New Yorkers from the
harm of spending a night in jail," said Steven Banks, the top
lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, which provides legal services
to the poor.
Even so, the New York Civil Liberties Union said New York
City conducts more marijuana arrests than any other city.
The mayor also offered an aggressive defense of the police
department's controversial Stop and Frisk policy, which civil
liberties groups say unfairly targets black and Latino men.
The practice has also been criticized by many of those vying
to succeed Bloomberg in office and is deeply unpopular in
minority neighborhoods. Bloomberg said it has proven effective
in keeping illegal guns off the streets.
"I understand that innocent people don't like to be
stopped," Bloomberg said. "But innocent people don't like to be
shot and killed either. ... We have a responsibility to conduct
them as long as I am mayor."
Critics accused the mayor of standing up for a failed idea.
City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who represents the East
Flatbush section of Brooklyn, said Bloomberg deserves credit for
helping to lower crime and improve public health in the New
York's roughest neighborhoods, but criticized stop and frisk for
inflicting more damage than good.
"Leadership also requires the courage and confidence to
admit a misguided policy and refocus for the benefit of all,"
Under Bloomberg's proposal for arrests for the possession of
small amounts of marijuana, an individual who produces an ID and
proves to have no outstanding warrants would be simply be issued
a ticket for a court appearance and released from the police
precint. Currently, such individuals often end up being held
overnight in jail because they must go through central booking.
Bloomberg has long sought to portray himself as an
independent-minded politician: a mayor without party affiliation
whose vast personal wealth has freed him from any dependence on
He stuck to that narrative on Thursday, vowing to beat back
obstructionists who threaten his rezoning and development
proposals, to push ahead with school reforms like an expansion
of charter schools, and to continue to pressure the U.S.
Congress into passing immigration reform and new gun control
"We have unfinished business - and only 320 days to complete
it," Bloomberg said. "The special interests and campaign donors
have never had less power than they've had over the past 11
Bloomberg has added to his national reputation by targeting
health issues ranging from public smoking to trans fats, salt
and the sale of large-sized sugary sodas. On Thursday he
proposed a ban on polystyrene foam, the packaging material that
is widely popular for take-out food but is almost impossible to
Bloomberg referred to Styrofoam, Dow Chemical's
trademarked named for extruded polystyrene, but the company said
it does not use Styrofoam to produce foam cups, trays or food
Similar foam bans have been adopted in Los Angeles, San
Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Oregon.
Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York Restaurant
Association, said he hopes "the concerns of the small businesses
it affects - like cost increases - will factor in at least as
heavily as environmental concerns."
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