There are five basic things to understand about the scandal of marijuana possession arrests in New York City. From these all other questions follow.

First, simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is not a crime in New York State. Since 1977 and passage of the Marijuana Reform Act, state law has made simple possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana (or less than seventh-eighths of an ounce) a violation, similar in some ways to a traffic infraction. A person found by the police to be possessing a small amount of marijuana in a pocket or belongings can be given a criminal court summons and fined $100 plus court costs, and may suffer other consequences, some quite serious.1 But at least initially, violations and summonses rarely include arrests, fingerprints, criminal records, and jailings.2 For over 30 years, New York State has formally, legally decriminalized possession of marijuana.