Op-ed: Arresting people for THC oil undermines justice reform

Councilmember Rory Lancman represents District 24 and chairs the Committee on the Justice System. He is a candidate for Queens district attorney.  Eagle  file photo by Paul Frangipane.

Councilmember Rory Lancman represents District 24 and chairs the Committee on the Justice System. He is a candidate for Queens district attorney. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane.

By Rory Lancman

Special to Eagle

In a major step forward for our city and our justice system, the NYPD announced last month that it will stop arresting people for possession of THC oil, which contains one of the main chemicals in marijuana, and would instead issue a criminal summons in most circumstances.

This enforcement change echoes one the NYPD made in September 2018 to issue a criminal summons in most cases to those in possession of marijuana, instead of arresting them. The purpose of that new policy was to fundamentally change how the City polices possession of small amounts of marijuana, especially given the historically disproportionate enforcement in communities of color.

However, public defenders sounded the alarm that, even after that change, the NYPD was still arresting New Yorkers for possession of THC oil or possession of vape pens with THC oil inside. Even more troubling, individuals arrested for THC oil possession were being charged under the same statute used for low-level heroin possession, a more serious A misdemeanor, instead of the statute commonly used for low-level marijuana possession, a B misdemeanor.

This distinction between traditional marijuana and THC oil also made no sense. At a time when the city says it is focused on keeping people out of the criminal justice system for low-level marijuana possession, arresting individuals for THC oil fundamentally undermines that stated goal.

Late last year, Council Member Donovan Richards and I wrote a letter to the Police Department demanding to know if THC oil was exempted from the city’s marijuana enforcement policy, and if so, why?

We waited for months for clarification from the NYPD. When no response was offered, I pressed the NYPD for answers under oath at a hearing last month. Commissioner O’Neill and NYPD officials confirmed that a policy was in the works to ensure that THC oil possession would be treated in the same manner as traditional marijuana moving forward. The exception to the policy is if the oil includes other narcotic substances, such as K2.

Loopholes that undermine progressive policy should not stand. I look forward to seeing the full details of the Police Department’s enforcement change reflected in the Patrol Guide that guides all officer policing, and will continue to hold them accountable.

Councilmember Rory Lancman represents District 24 and chairs the Committee on the Justice System. He is a candidate for Queens district attorney.