Being caught in possession of marijuana could be cheaper in New York after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new proposals including cutting the fines to be paid for marijuana possession.
Cuomo, a Democrat seen as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, called on legislators to decriminalize possession of 25 grams or fewer of marijuana in public view, and end so-called stop-and-frisk practice of ordering people to empty their pockets during police checks.
The measure would "make the penalties for private and public possession of small amounts of marijuana the same, thereby bringing consistency and fairness to New York state's penal law," Cuomo's office said in a statement.
The governor wants to downgrade possession of small amounts of marijuana in public from a misdemeanor to a violation, with a top fine of $100 for first-time offenders.
His proposal comes amid controversy over the high number of arrests, especially of blacks and Hispanics, during street checks by New York City police.
During checks, police often require suspects to empty their pockets, causing any previously concealed marijuana to be seen in public and thus providing grounds for an arrest.
Arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana have jumped from around 2,000 in early 1990 to over 50,000 today, most of them in New York City, officials said.
"This new law will save thousands of New Yorkers, who are disproportionately black and Hispanic youth, from unnecessary misdemeanor charges," Cuomo said in the state capital, Albany.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg immediately backed the measure, saying it "strikes the right balance by ensuring that the NYPD will continue to have the tools it needs to maintain public safety -- including making arrests for selling or smoking marijuana."
But he also defended the actions of the New York Police Department, noting that they helped reduce crime by 35 percent over the last decade.
"Thanks to the NYPD, our city has come a long way from the days when marijuana was routinely sold and smoked on our streets without repercussions," he added.
To underscore support from the city, NYPD chief Ray Kelly attended Cuomo's press conference, along with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
In September, Kelly issued an order to his subordinates to stop arresting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana if the drug was not previously in public view.
But the alleged improper marijuana arrests continued, so Kelly said it was necessary to change the law instead of asking police to turn a blind eye.
Over four million innocent New Yorkers, most of them blacks and Hispanics, have been subjected to police checks and interrogations on the street since 2004, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Last year alone, police checked some 685,724 people, the rights group said on its website. It said nine out of 10 people stopped were found to be innocent -- 53 percent of them blacks and 34 percent Latinos.