Since 1977, possession of small amounts of marijuana have been a violation, a non-arrestable offense — unless it’s burning or in plain public view. Despite the existing law, in 2010 one out of every seven arrests in New York City was for marijuana possession in public view — even though the vast majority of those arrested did not possess marijuana in public view, as widely reported in the NY Times, WNYC, the Daily News, and many other news outlets. These arrests are largely the result of NYPD stopping and frisking over a half million mostly young black and Latino men and falsely charging them for marijuana possession in public view. In addition to conducting illegal searches, the police often tell individuals to empty their pockets, and then charge individuals with possession of marijuana in public view — a misdemeanor.
A campaign led by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, and VOCAL pounded away at Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD for wasting taxpayer dollars conducting racially biased policing practices, performing illegal searches, and falsely charging tens of thousands of New Yorkers for a misdemeanor crime instead of the non-criminal offense, a violation. In September of this year, in response to the campaign, NYPD Commission Ray Kelly issued an operations order commanding officers to follow existing New York State law — the order directed officers to stop falsely charging people for possessing marijuana in public view if individuals removed marijuana from their pocket under the order of a police officer. While a step in the right direction, the operations order did not address the illegal searches conducted regularly by NYPD, nor did it address the racial bias implicit in these arrests.
Research by Queens College professor Dr. Harry Levine clearly demonstrates that the vast majority of the marijuana arrests in New York City — up to 75 percent in some precincts — are the result of illegal searches and false charges. New arrest figures just released show that since the operations order issued by Commissioner Kelly, arrests for low-level marijuana arrests have fallen by only 13 percent in New York City since the same period last year — a disappointing drop considering the scale of NYPD’s criminal practice.
Statements by Campaign Members on the New Figures:
“Regardless of what the numbers show, the impact is still tremendously felt by the communities that are illegally and disproportionately arrested for something that has been decriminalized for over 30 years,” said Chino Hardin with the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives and an expert trainer for Know Your Rights workshops. “The crusade continues regardless of the 13% drop. When we see the numbers decrease by 80%, then we will know that the NYPD is meaningfully following and upholding the law.”
“Commissioner Kelly is all talk and no walk when it comes to following the law around marijuana possession in New York City,” said Carl Stubbs, an openly HIV-positive member of VOCAL-NY from South Jamaica, Queens who has been illegally arrested for marijuana possession. “Too many people in neighborhoods like mine have been treated like criminals when the real law-breakers have been police illegally searching people and then charging them with having marijuana in plain sight. Either Commissioner Kelly can’t control the police force or he’s not taking tens of thousands of improper arrests seriously.”
“Unfortunately, these figures are cause for outrage, not celebration,” said Gabriel Sayegh, state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “In this economy, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD are wasting millions of tax dollars by using illegal searches and false charges to sweep tens of thousands of Black and Latino youth into the criminal justice system. Even with this drop, more people have still been arrested for small amounts of marijuana in 2011 then in same period in 2010. With these new numbers, NYC goes from marijuana arrest capital of the world to the marijuana arrest capital of the world.”
From The Drug Policy Alliance