Manhattan Just Quietly Decriminalized Public Drinking, And That's a Good Thing

You don’t have to be this guy anymore. Photo by Getty Images

It’s summer. You’re hot. You’re thirsty. You surreptitiously crack open a Miller High Life tall boy in Central Park—right in front of a cop. Don’t worry. Thanks to new borough-wide policy, you probably won’t get arrested. Cheers!

Welcome to Gizmodo’s Happy Hour. Substance abuse for nerds.

Today, Manhattan’s district attorney announced that the borough won’t arrest people for public consumption of alcohol unless it poses a threat to safety. New Yorkers who drink in public on the island might get a summons and be ordered to pay a fine, but what this announcement really sounds like is that you’re more likely to get a warning than anything else. (Apparently the city also said the same thing about public urination, which I suppose makes sense—what goes in has to come out.)


Decriminalizing public drinking is a huge step forward in a city like New York. When it comes to enjoying an adult beverage outside the confines of a specially licensed facility, the US is puritanical to a fault. Only a handful of cities allow public drinking, and many of those are in special “entertainment zones” like the Las Vegas Strip, where—to be honest—it’s not that fun to drink in public at all. Great cities around the world allow residents and visitors to freely imbibe at parks and on beaches. And they’re better places for it.

It does seem like many US cities are finding more ways to allow responsibly drinking adults to enjoy a few cocktails outside of the traditional bar and restaurant environment. Just look at the explosion of family-friendly beer gardens modeled after the pubs of Europe, where kids are encouraged to tag along with their parents as they down a pint or two. Chilling out about public drinking might actually allow parents to hang in a park with their kids while enjoying some wine. It seems particularly cruel to not allow consumption of booze in a public space in Manhattan, a place where most people don’t have backyards.


It’s also smarter for cities to employ these kinds of policies that allow police officers to go after the perpetrators of violent crime instead of the regular people who commit these low-level offenses. NYPD seems to be particularly fond of ticketing public drinkers, writing 124,498 summonses in 2011 for drinking in public, more than any other offense. That’s a lot of people who probably just had a beer in their hands, or were possibly sipping it from the skull of a fake baby. Now NYPD can focus those efforts elsewhere.

The next step, of course, is decriminalizing weed. As The Observer notes, Brooklyn’s district attorney made a similar statement about marijuana in 2014; the borough won’t arrest people for smoking or possession. So should you feel the urge to toke some ganj al fresco, just jump on the L.


[Manhattan DA via The Observer]

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