Can I Smoke Marijuana In Public In States Where It Is Legal?

Even where marijuana is legal, laws still prohibit people from using marijuana in public places. But while the use of marijuana is technically against the law, enforcement agencies across the country are stepping back from arresting people they see on the streets using marijuana.

As has been the case in places such as Amsterdam for years, law enforcement officers have discretion in cases where they see someone smoking cannabis. What once resulted in an automatic arrest may result in a warning, potential confiscation of the marijuana or – and this is increasingly the case – nothing at all.

NYPD Told to Stop Arrests in Memo

In a memo from the New York Police Department reported by CNN and other news outlets, officers are told not to arrest people for smoking marijuana in public. New York made recreational marijuana legal on March 31 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legalization bill into law.

The law allows adults 21 and older to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate.

CNN reported the memo instructs officers that smoking marijuana in such places as sidewalks, on front porch stoops and other public places “is not a basis for an approach, stop, summons, arrest or search.”

The memo also states that officers cannot charge an individual with sale of marijuana even if they see a “hand to hand exchange” of three ounces or less of cannabis between people older than 21 – unless they see money offered.

They also may not detain a parolee if they have lawful amounts of marijuana unless it is specifically prohibited as part of their parole.

The Smell Issue Comes Up Again

Departments around the country have been dealing with the “smell test.” It started in Florida and Texas, two states without legal recreational marijuana. Officers in both states were told not to detain people just because they smell marijuana.

A judge in Pennsylvania later made a similar ruling in that state, even though the smell of marijuana has served as probable cause to search a vehicle for almost 100 years.

That issue also came up in the NYPD memo. It stated that the smell of marijuana alone “no longer establishes probable cause of a crime to search a vehicle.”

It’s still illegal to use marijuana inside a vehicle or if driving. And while marijuana is legal in many places and officers are not as quick to make arrests, it’s still safer to use marijuana in private residences or designated places such as a cannabis cafe.

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