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Battle brewing over marijuana legislation

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Albany/HV: Battle brewing over marijuana legislation
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One of the bills on Governor Cuomo's agenda that didn't get passed was a proposal to decriminalize marijuana, but that doesn't mean the issue is up in smoke. YNN's Dean Meminger reports that there's now a court battle heating up in New York City.

NEW YORK STATE -- The Legal Aid Society has defended thousands of people who say they were wrongfully arrested for having small amounts of marijuana. Now it's taking legal action on behalf of all of them at once.

"We are left with no choice but to go to the court to protect New Yorkers from the harm that is occurring every day on the streets with improper arrests from the police department," said Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society.

On Friday, Legal Aid filed a complaint asking the state courts to make clear that cops cannot arrest people who have less than 25 grams of marijuana on them unless it's out in the open. Governor Cuomo was pushing a bill that would make having that small amount a simple violation whether the drug was concealed or not. A person would only get a ticket, not arrested and possibly wind up with a criminal record.

"Could affect their ability to get a job, their ability to maintain their housing, their ability to get educational loans, their ability to stay in this country," Banks said.

The mayor, police commissioner and the city's five district attorneys backed the governor's proposal, but republican state law makers didn't go along with it. The head of the NYPD's Legal Bureau says officers have to follow the current law and must make an arrest if the marijuana is in the open at the time of a stop.

"If there are legislative changes, we will adjust and adapt our policies to meet those legislative changes. Right now, the law states what the law states and we enforce those laws," said NYPD Legal Bureau Inspector Kerry Sweet.

In September of last year, the police commissioner actually put out an order to officers not to arrest people for having small amounts of marijuana if it was concealed and only found during a stop and frisk or search of the person.

So how much is a small amount of marijuana? Using oregano as a substitute, we measured it out. Twenty-five grams is about an ounce.

The Bronx DA says he'll take a close look at any arrest that comes to his office.

State law makers could re-address the issue when they start their new session in January.

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