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Report: Arrests for marijuana possession continue despite policy changes

Cyril Josh Barker | 11/2/2017, 2:30 p.m.
New findings from a law enforcement reform group demonstrate that although Mayor Bill de Blasio claims to have ended marijuana ...
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New findings from a law enforcement reform group demonstrate that although Mayor Bill de Blasio claims to have ended marijuana sanctions, the NYPD continues to target individuals who have the drug on them.

In a report released this week by the Police Reform Organizing Project, the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services determined that police are still arresting people for marijuana possession. In the first nine months of 2017, there have been more than 13,500 arrests, totaling 50 arrests a day.

“While virtually all the numbers demonstrate that NYPD arrest practices are marked by waste and racial bias, the statistics that stand out for us involve arrests for misdemeanor marijuana offenses,” said PROP director Robert Gangi.

In 2014, de Blasio announced that the NYPD would stop arresting people for possessing 25 grams or less of marijuana. The crime was downgraded to a simple summons and $100 fine on the first offense. Before the announcement, possessing the drug was a misdemeanor, and critics said that the law targeted people of color.

“I think the fact that you will see fewer unnecessary arrests will be good for New York City as a whole; it will certainly be good for New Yorkers of color, particularly young people of color—there’s no question about that,” the mayor said in 2014.

Prior to his announcement, the mayor was criticized for the high number of marijuana arrests. In his first five months in office the NYPD arrested more people per month than former Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph Giuliani.

Earlier in 2014, late Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced that he would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana possession offenses, citing safety concerns and the money wasted on issues.

“This new policy is a reasonable response to the thousands of low-level marijuana arrests that weigh down the criminal justice system, require significant resources that could be redirected to more serious crimes and take an unnecessary toll on offenders,” Thompson said.

Fast forward to 2017, PROP found that 86 percent of misdemeanor arrests involved people of color, compared to 86.5 percent in the first nine months of 2016 and 87 percent in 2015.

Across all arrest categories, 2017 arrest data from January to September showed that the NYPD continues the discriminatory practice of targeting low-income people of color for minor infractions. More than half of the NYPD’s felony arrests involved Black New Yorkers, who make up a quarter of the city’s total population.

PROP claims arrests are costing the city as well. One misdemeanor arrest costs the city $1,750 and all misdemeanor arrests cost the city $787,000 per day.

“Though research and experience demonstrate that white people use and sell marijuana in proportions and numbers equal to or greater than African-Americans and Latinos, 90 percent of NYPD arrests for marijuana offenses in 2017 have involved New Yorkers of color,” Gangi said. “Time for the hypocrisy to stop and for our city to end these blatantly racist practices.”