The Marijuana Arrest Research Project released data showing that racially bias marijuana arrests continue to be one of the leading arrests in New York City, despite the precipitous drop in stop and frisks.
In March 2014, the NYPD under Mayor Bill de Blasio made more marijuana possession arrests than almost every other month in 2013 under Bloomberg and Kelly. New York City's marijuana possession arrests in the first quarter of 2014 are higher than in the third and fourth quarters of 2013, with identical racial disparities. As illustrated in graphs by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, approximately 86% of those arrested are Black and Latino - mostly young men -- despite government studies that show that young white men use marijuana at higher rates. Indeed, if this trend continues, NYPD could make as many or more marijuana arrests in 2014 as they did in 2013.
The human and fiscal costs of these arrests are staggering. Those arrested are saddled with a permanent arrest record that can follow them for the rest of their lives - easily found on the internet by banks, schools, employers, landlords, and licensing boards. Elected officials from President Obama to New York Governor Cuomo acknowledge that marijuana arrests are racially biased, predominantly impact low-income people, and are a waste of finite law enforcement resources.
New York State decriminalized personal possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, finding that arresting people for small amounts of marijuana "needlessly scars thousands of lives while detracting from the prosecution of serious crimes." Yet over the last twenty years, marijuana possession has become a top law enforcement priority, with nearly 600,000 people having been arrested under this provision in New York City, often as the result of an illegal search or as the result of a stop-and-frisk encounter when police demand an individual "empty their pockets," thus exposing marijuana to public view.
"The recent uptick of marijuana arrests in New York City is unsettling and unjust," said Alfredo Carrasquillo, civil rights organizer for VOCAL-NY. "These arrests not only waste millions of taxpayer dollars for an action that poses no public safety threat, but also permanently saddles mostly young people of color with criminal records for the rest of their lives. We cannot let low-level marijuana arrests rise again to the infamous levels of the Bloomberg era. Our elected officials and the NYPD must act swiftly to ensure that these arrests stop and no more people suffer at the hands of biased policing."
Efforts in Albany to reform the law have been stalled by the Senate and the Governor. While Albany delays, community groups have demanded local action. In a major development last month, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced his plan to stop prosecuting people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. The proposal was met with wide support from Brooklyn elected officials, community groups, and advocates, who rallied on the steps of Borough Hall in support of Thompson's plan and to call on other District Attorneys to follow suit.
When running for mayor, Bill de Blasio promised to end the abuse of stop-and-frisk and to end New York City's marijuana arrest crusade. While the de Blasio Administration and Commissioner Bratton have moved to address stop-and-frisk, the first quarter data makes clear that a drop in stop-and-frisks does not mean an end to racially biased marijuana arrests. Advocates called on the mayor to create a specific plan to end marijuana possession arrests in New York City.
"This first quarter data about marijuana possession arrests is an alarming wake-up call for New Yorkers," said Gabriel Sayegh New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "These arrests are discriminatory, wasteful and biased - and they're not going to end just because stop-and-frisks are down. The City needs a focused, targeted plan to end these arrests and address the collateral harms associated with the legacy of biased practices. The proposal by Brooklyn DA Thompson to stop prosecuting these arrests is a good first step, and other DA's should follow suit. The next step is for the Mayor, City Council and NYPD to make ending these arrests a top priority. It's long past time to establish drug laws and policing practices that embody fairness, justice and equity."