TIME New York

Pot Arrests Plunge in NYC After Policy Change

The policy is working

(NEW YORK) — New York City’s pledge to stop making many marijuana arrests is playing out on the streets, where arrests and summonses for small-time pot possession have plummeted since the policy change this fall.

After a mid-November turn toward violations and summonses instead of misdemeanor arrests for carrying modest amounts of pot, such arrests plunged by 75 percent in December compared to last year, from about 1,820 to 460, according to state Division of Criminal Justice Services statistics obtained by The Associated Press. The November numbers fell 42 percent, from 2,200 to 1,280.

Even summonses have fallen by about 10 percent since the policy change, to 1,180, compared to the same period a year ago, New York Police Department figures show.

“Since the inception of our policy in 2014, marijuana enforcement activity is trending down in all categories” for the bottom-rung marijuana charge, Deputy Chief Kim Royster told the AP.

Critics who decried the once-spiking arrests see the decline as promising. But they say it’s too early to draw lasting conclusions, especially since low-level arrests and summonses of all kinds plummeted for a few weeks after the deadly shootings of two officers Dec. 20.

“Clearly, progress is being made,” but it needs to continue and deepen, said Gabriel Sayegh, the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York state director.

The plunge in arrests caps dramatic shifts in recent years in how the nation’s biggest city polices small amounts of pot.

Arrests for the lowest-level marijuana charge — possession of less than 25 grams, about a sandwich bag full — shot up from about 5,700 in 1995 to 50,700 in 2011, spurring criticism of police tactics and priorities. Then the arrests started declining notably amid public pressure and some police instruction and procedural changes, hitting about 29,000 in 2013.

They were keeping pace this year until November, when de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced the new direction. With the sharp fall-off in the last two months, there were about 26,400 marijuana arrests in 2014, down about 9 percent from 2013, the state statistics show.

State law makes it a misdemeanor to have up to 25 grams of marijuana in “public view.” But the mayor said the city was choosing to treat that largely as a non-criminal violation — meaning a summons rather than an arrest, and a potential $100-plus fine instead of a possible three months in jail and a criminal record. (Under a 1977 state law, carrying the same amount of pot out of sight was already a violation, not a misdemeanor.)

Arrests were to continue in some cases, such as when people are allegedly seen smoking the drug in public.

“The law is a law, but what we’re trying to do is approach the enforcement of the law in a smarter way,” de Blasio said in November. Noting that the cases often get dismissed, he said the change would spare police time for more serious matters and spare people arrest records, which can affect public housing eligibility and some other aspects of life even without a conviction.

The head of the rank-and-file officers’ union was cool to the idea, suggesting it could tie officers’ hands in dealing with lawbreakers. But the captains’ union president expressed support for it.

Critics of the arrests suggest the summons strategy isn’t a perfect solution. Multiple marijuana-possession convictions can spur deportation even if the charges are violations — something defendants may not grasp if they decide to plead guilty, thinking the only consequence is a fine, legal advocates say. They also have concerns about how cases will be handled in crowded summons courts.

“A more meaningful change would be to de-emphasize enforcement of non-criminal violations across the board,” the New York Civil Liberties Union said in City Council hearing testimony last month.

But de Blasio put the difference simply when announcing the new policy: “Would you rather be arrested or be given a summons?”

TIME energy

Oil Prices Changing the Face Of Global Geopolitics

petrol-pump-closeup
Getty Images

Russia and Venezuela are two of many to be involved in the upcoming changes

In a documentary that aired recently on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s popular The Fifth Estate program, an allegory of Vladimir Putin was presented. The wily Russian president was described growing up in a shabby St. Petersburg apartment, where he would often corner rats.

Now, punished by low oil prices and Western sanctions against Russian incursions in Ukraine/ Crimea, Putin is himself the cornered rat. Many wonder, and fear, what he will do if conditions in Russia become increasingly desperate.

In the last six months oil prices have plunged over 50 percent and the Russian economy is hurting. The country now faces slowing economic growth, a depressed ruble, and runaway inflation estimated to be up to 150 percent on basic foodstuffs.

The Kremlin is counting on austerity cuts to help balance its budget, which has revenues coming in at $45 billion lower than earlier projections. The exception, significantly, is defense. With the military exempted from the austerity plan, it begs the question of whether Putin will “play the nationalist card,” such as he did in Crimea, in an effort to strengthen greater Russia during a period of economic weakness.

Georgia On His Mind

We are already seeing this to be the case. As Oilprice.com reported last week, Putin is set to absorb South Ossetia – Georgia’s breakaway republic that declared itself independent in 1990. Under an agreement “intended to legalize South Ossetia’s integration with Russia,” Russia would invest 2.8 million rubles (US$50 million) to “fund the socio-economic development of South Ossetia,” according to Agenda.GE, a Tbilisi-based news site.

The situation is analogous to Crimea because, like Crimea, South Ossetia contains a significant Russian-speaking population with ties to the Motherland.

If Putin succeeds in annexing the tiny province, it will be a real poke in the eye to the United States, which provoked Russia in the early 1990s by promoting construction of a pipeline between the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The BTC pipeline moves oil from Baku in Azerbaijan to Tbilisi in Georgia and then onward to Ceyhan on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

BTC started operating in 2006. Then, two years later, Putin built his own pipeline to cut out Georgia. The South Ossetia pipeline run by Gazprom stretches 75 kilometers from South Ossetia to Russia.

The current move on South Ossetia is a way for Russia to assert its energy independence in the face of Western sanctions and low oil prices.

It comes as Russia announced plans to divert all of its natural gas crossing Ukraine to a route via Turkey. As Bloomberg reported last week, Gazprom will send 63 billion cubic meters through a proposed link under the Black Sea to Turkey – after the earlier South Stream pipeline, a $45-billion project that would have crossed Bulgaria, was scrapped by Russia amid opposition from the European Union. By sending the gas to Turkey and on to Europe via Greece, Gazprom is in effect sending Europe an ultimatum: build pipelines to European markets, or we will sell the gas to other customers.

According to one observer, the proposed land grab in South Ossetia combined with the snub to Europe by shifting its gas to Turkey and bypassing Ukraine, is a classic Putin power play:

“Russia is preparing to absorb a province of neighboring Georgia, and delivering an ultimatum to Europe that it could lose much of the Russian gas on which it relies,” Steve LeVine writes in Quartz. “Putin has argued that the west is simply intent on ousting him and weakening Russia… Faced with these perceived attempts to undercut him and his country, Putin suggests that he has no choice but to pull around the wagons and stick it out. This could go on a long time.”

Plunging Oil Prices Crash The Stock Market?

When oil crashed in 2008 all hell was breaking loose. Lehman Brothers went up in smoke and stocks were in a nosedive. Oil has once again crashed -50% in only 6 months but equities haven’t followed – at least not yet! Will stocks hold up going forward? You might find it hard to believe just how much wealth could have been created last time this happened. If we learn from the past, this could be a second chance to make an absolute fortune.

Some have speculated that the oil price crash was orchestrated by the Saudis, possibly in collusion with the United States and other Gulf states, to punish Iran, its main political and religious rival in the Middle East.

Whether or not that is true, there is no denying the effects of a low oil price on Iran’s economy. “Iran is already missing tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue due to Western sanctions and years of economic mismanagement under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” Bloomberg reported on Jan. 7. Like Russia, Iran is looking at spending cuts in next year’s budget, which is based on an overly-optimistic $72 a barrel crude oil price.

However, unlike Russia, which is “circling the wagons” and pulling further away from the West currently, the oil price drop could actually lead to more of a détente between Iran and Western countries. In a speech on Jan. 4, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s economy “cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the world,” while at the same time, Iran’s foreign minister was negotiating a nuclear deal that could see the lifting of UN sanctions, the Washington Post observed.

Then there is the cooperation between the West and Iran over the terrorist group ISIS. The National Post’s J.L. Granatsein wrote in a column on Tuesday that Iran has deployed substantial numbers of its Revolutionary Guard elite Al Qods brigade into Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS, along with Western allies including the US, Britain, France and Canada. This is despite Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria’s president Assad.

“Politics makes strange bedfellows indeed, but not much can be stranger than this. Led by the Americans, hitherto the Great Satan to the Iranian leaders, the ties between the West and Iran are becoming tighter, each side reacting to the horrors of Islamist fundamentalism throughout the region,” Granatsein writes. “The Iranians have been hurt by sanctions, and they are being wracked even more by the falling price of oil. Easing curbs on trade and Iranian banks may mitigate the effects of the oil price collapse.”

Venezuela Bracing For The Worst

The other major loser in the oil price collapse, Venezuela, may not see such a positive outcome. Wracked by decades of economic mismanagement by Hugo Chávez, the South American oil producer was already struggling to pay its debts when new president Nicolás Maduro came to power.

Now, with inflation running at 60 percent and lines forming outside state grocery stores for food and other basic supplies, Maduro faces the specter of serious social unrest if conditions do not improve. The country has some of the world’s cheapest gasoline prices, but Maduro has refused to end fuel subsidies, fearing, no doubt, a repeat of widespread riots in 1989 that left hundreds dead after gasoline prices were allowed to rise.

Venezuela is even more dependent than Russia on the price of oil, earning some 96 percent of its foreign currency from oil sales, putting Maduro in the untenable position of either borrowing more, despite crushing debts, or slashing spending:

“With only $20 billion left in its reserves, and $50 billion in debt to China alone, Venezuela appears headed toward a choice between abandoning its oil giveaways and defaulting on its debts, or starving its own population to the point of revolt,”according to the Washington Post.

This post originally appeared on OilPrice.com.

Read more from Oilprice.com:

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: President Obama And the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama will be appearing in public with Obama for the first time

TIME revealed on Thursday that the Dalai Lama will be attending the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5.

But why is this going to be so significant — and what does China have to do with it?

Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more.

TIME politics

Brittany Maynard’s Memory Is Helping Us Achieve Death With Dignity

Barbara Coombs Lee is president of Compassion & Choices.

Lawmakers in California and around the country are fighting to passing Death with Dignity laws

In June of 2014, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard moved to Oregon in order to legally obtain aid-in-dying medication after she was diagnosed with terminally ill cancer. Inspired by her public advocacy, this month, California State Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning and Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk introduced “The End-of-Life Options Act,” a bill modeled after the Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act.

This is not the first time lawmakers in California and other states have considered legislation to follow Oregon’s lead and grant terminally ill, mentally competent adults the option to request aid-in-dying medication from their physicians and ingest it if the dying process becomes intolerable.

But since Brittany’s death, nationwide demand for similar state laws has skyrocketed.

Recent national polls show 74 percent of Americans and 54 percent of U.S. physicians want aid in dying to be an authorized medical option. They see that those who would deny patients this option are out of sync with new, and more just, expectations around end-of-life decisions.

This soaring support explains why legislators have introduced death-with-dignity bills, or pledged to do so, in Washington, D.C., and at least 13 states in addition to California. These states include Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Brittany’s story is also galvanizing previously existing campaigns in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

Granted, introducing legislation is one thing; passing it is another. In two consecutive legislative sessions, 2005 and 2007, the nonprofit Compassion & Choices worked with California Assembly members Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine to pass a bill similar to “The End-of-Life Options Act.” But it failed under intense opposition from the California Medical Association and the California Conference of Catholic Bishops.

That is why Brittany Maynard had to leave her Bay Area home and move to Oregon after doctors learned brain cancer was killing her. Surgery was unsuccessful, and no hope for cure remained. When Brittany asked what would happen before she died, doctors described intense headaches, seizures of increasing frequency and duration, blindness, dramatic personality changes, and loss of every brain function, including movement and thought, as death approached.

Knowing she wanted the option of a peaceful, humane death before those horrors came, she moved with her family to Portland, and took all the steps to qualify and receive aid-in-dying medication. Then, she felt secure in the ability to live fully and vibrantly, but control the amount of suffering she would endure. Brittany passed away gently in her sleep on November 1, a few hours after suffering her last seizure and 30 minutes after swallowing her aid-in-dying medication.

Brittany devoted her waning days and energies to outspoken advocacy for legal reform in California and every other state. Before she died, the videos she recorded were viewed, shared on Facebook, and tweeted around the world. The story of her death on People.com was the most read story in the site’s history.

American and international media outlets still repeat Brittany’s story and report her words. Nearly 4,000 stories about her have appeared since her death, and this month, numerous national media outlets interviewed Brittany’s husband, Dan Diaz, and mother, Debbie Ziegler. They made a promise to Brittany, and they are dedicated to fulfill her mission to see the medical practice of aid in dying accessible in California and other states.

Brittany’s legacy is why the powerhouses of politicized medicine and politicized Catholicism are not likely to defeat end-of-life options in California this time.

As the old adage goes, politics and sausage-making are both vile, and no one wants to see the process. In my experience, the powerful players who do not want dying patients to gain control over the suffering they endure or the circumstances of their deaths use their formidable power ruthlessly to maintain the status quo.

Our legislative supporters face the usual threats of lost campaign contributions and lost support for other unrelated bills. But they also face threats of shunning at the communion rail, excommunication, and expulsion from religious schools, hospitals, charities, and other institutions in their districts. They have faced threats to their livelihood and received letters from school children who had been told the lawmaker was going to kill their grandma.

These tactics have kept lawmakers from doing right by those who face end-of-life suffering. But, this time around, Brittany is here to stand up for the dying through her family and friends. This time, 100 million Americans know about Brittany Maynard and why she needed aid in dying as an accessible medical option. This time, the 17-year Oregon experience has moved aid-in-dying beyond a policy debate. Generation Xers like Brittany, baby boomers, and their elderly parents know what is at stake. And they want options for themselves and their families. This time, half-a-million online activists will follow the legislation’s progress. These folks signed the guest book at TheBrittanyFund.org and vowed to carry on her advocacy after she died. If the bill fails this time, millions of Californians will know why.

In her last video Brittany said, “I hope for the sake of other Americans … that this choice be extended to you…That we mobilize, that we vocalize, that we start to talk about it.” Less than three months after her death, Brittany’s vision is coming true.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Budget

Government Budget Cuts Are Hitting ‘Red’ States Hardest, Say Analysts

A red traffic light stands in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington
A red traffic light stands in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington September 30, 2013, approximately one hour before the U.S. federal government partially shut down after lawmakers failed to compromise on an emergency spending bill JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN —REUTERS

Experts suggest the discrepancy may point to the politicalization of public spending

Recent governmental budget cuts have not been distributed evenly with slashed spending hitting pro-Republican states the hardest, according to new analysis by Reuters.

Funding for a range of discretionary grant programs has fallen 40% in Republican states compared to a drop of only 25% in swing states or states that tend to support the Democrats, claims the news agency.

“I would suggest these numbers would tell us there is politicization going on,” said John Hudak of the Brookings Institution, who helped Reuters analyze the federal spending.

The money that the government allocates to discretionary spending goes to initiatives like the Head Start preschool education scheme and anti-drugs programs.

Read more on the study at Reuters

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Fighting Intensifies in Eastern Ukraine

A weekend of fierce fighting in Ukraine's embattled Donbass region continued Monday

A weekend of fierce fighting in Ukraine’s embattled Donbass region continued Monday as pro-Russian insurgents encircled Ukrainian government troops in a new advance. The war of words heated up, too, as Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Kiev of relying on a “foreign legion” to wage war against the separatist militias. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called Putin’s comments “nonsense.”

TIME politics

9 Takeaways from the 2015 Blizzard Bust

A man crosses the street in New York City during a snow storm in New York City on Jan. 26, 2015. Benjamin Lowy—Getty Images Reportage for TIME

Incentives matter, and politicians have the wrong ones

It may still be snowing somewhere, but it’s not too early to draw some conclusions from the great blizzard bust of 2015. Among them:

Politicians are on power trips. This is true both of Republicans like the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who honed his command-and-control techniques during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, and Democrats like the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, and New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, who appeared to see the storm as an opportunity to distract the public from their political problems. When were mayors and governors given the power to ban travel by individual citizens?

Complex systems are hard to predict. The same weathermen who can’t tell for sure one day in advance if New York City will get an 18-inch walloping of snow or a mere dusting are the ones who want us to trust their models for estimated sea level rise by 2100. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan or try to mitigate risks, but it does mean we should apply some skepticism and allow for the possibility that they might be off.

Regional variations matter. It didn’t snow much in New York City. It did snow a lot in Boston. Lots of things in addition to weather also vary with geography. Attitudes toward guns, for example. That’s why it’s often better to handle all but the most core Constitutional freedoms at local levels of government, which have a better handle on local sensibilities than Washington does.

Sometimes the urge to sue is overwhelming. I’m about the least litigious person around and have little to no use for tort lawyers. But where do the businesses of New York and New Jersey go to recover the losses from being essentially ordered to close? In the private sector, if someone got a call as wrong as the governors, the mayor, and the National Weather Service, they’d be on the receiving end of a lawsuit.

Incentives matter. When I moved to Boston from New York a couple of years ago, I couldn’t get over how much better the snow removal is here in Boston. The reason is that in Boston the job is done by private contractors with their own equipment instead of by the New York City method of affixing plows to the front of city-owned garbage trucks operated by unionized city employees.

Religion is one of the strongest forces. A lot of things in Boston and New York are closed, and state authorities are telling people to stay indoors. But the twice-daily prayer service at my synagogue is proceeding as scheduled.

News is often what happens where the reporters are. A snowstorm, real or just predicted, gets a lot more attention when it hits New York City or Washington, D.C. than when it hits Buffalo or Chicago. That’s not because more ordinary people are affected, it’s because that is where the television producers and the newspaper editors happen to live.

The contrarian bet is often the right one. When the politicians, stock market commentators, or weather forecasters say to panic is usually a good time to relax. When they say not to panic, it’s usually a good time to be worried.

Competition and choice have advantages. When there’s one state-run subway system, the governor decides to close it, and it’s closed. In a world with several competing subway lines run by different companies, the different managements may make different choices. Some might close. Some might stay open. Some might stay open and charge higher prices to compensate for the risk of damage to equipment. When the governor decides to ban travel, everyone has to stay off the roads, even if the predicted blizzard turns out to be just a gentle flurry. Better for the governor to just say, “there’s a big snowstorm predicted, please try to stay off the roads if you can so that plows and ambulances can get around,” and let individuals make their own judgments. That’s actually a good approach no matter what the weather is.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative and Samuel Adams: A Life.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 27

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Political differences aren’t the problem in America. It’s our fierce intolerance of political differences.

By Clive Crook in Bloomberg View

2. Instead of burying carbon emissions underground, a new plan converts it to minerals for longer-lasting, safer storage.

By Andy Extance in Slate

3. As more states and communities give ex-cons a fair chance at employment, the momentum is building for action by the White House.

By Lydia DePillis in the Washington Post

4. Games inspire deeper engagement and interaction. Can we gamify the news?

By Lene Bech Sillesen in Columbia Journalism Review

5. It’s time to reimagine youth sports in America with an eye on inclusion and health.

By Tom Farrey in the Aspen Idea Blog

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Blame De Blasio and Cuomo and Christie for the Blizzard Snow Job

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio exits a news conference with Department of Sanitation workers in New York.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio exits a news conference with Department of Sanitation workers in preparation for a blizzard in New York City, Jan. 26, 2015. Yana Paskova—The New York Times/Redux

Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

As politicians rushed to out-serious each other, New Yorkers were whipped into a fear frenzy.

Every modern event has a hashtag and this morning, as New York City takes stock of the #snowmageddon2015 that wasn’t, it’s turning to #snowperbole.

On Monday, as Governor Cuomo, Governor Christie, and Mayor de Blasio rushed to out-serious each other, New Yorkers were whipped into a fear frenzy. Supermarket shelves were stripped bare, photos of Whole Foods depleted of kale circulated, and people stocked up for what would likely be days (maybe weeks!) indoors.

Even as we were doing it, we acknowledged it didn’t make much sense. After all, we’re in New York City. Bodegas never close. Delivery guys on bicycles have been a constant through all previous winter storms. All New Yorkers have their stories. That time we ordered Chinese Food during the snowstorm of 1994. Swimming on Brighton Beach during Hurricane Gloria. Buying Poptarts at the corner bodega during Sandy. Driving from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again during the blackout of 2003. Yes, those are all mine.

MORE Here’s Who Decides If Your Flight Takes off This Week

As we waited for the storm deemed “historic,” the only real history was made when the subway shut down for the first time ever in preparation for snow. The real insult came when it was reported later that the trains were indeed still running, empty, as trains needed to keep moving to clear the tracks. Citibike was shut down. Cars were banned from the roads and anyone who didn’t take heed risked being fined.

These are all symptoms of our infantilizing “do something!” culture. Everyone understands the pressure politicians feel to be seen as proactive. But this time they went way too far in the name of protecting us. It’s one thing to warn drivers that conditions are dangerous and that they go out at their own risk. It’s another to shut down all roads in the city that allegedly never sleeps.

The 11 p.m. curfew resulted in lost wages for delivery people who count on larger-than-usual tips during inclement weather. Why couldn’t they make their own decisions about working during the snow? Not everyone makes a salary the way our mayor and governor do. Many workers count on their hourly wage, and their tips, to make their rent each month.

The storm was a dud, but even if had been as severe as predicted, bringing a city like New York to a preemptive standstill makes little sense. The people who keep New York humming take the subway after 11pm and can decide for themselves whether to keep their businesses open. Preparedness doesn’t have to mean panic.

Read next: 9 Takeaways from the 2015 Blizzard Bust

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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