In 2014 the New York Police Department and Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference to announce that New York City would punish possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana with a ticket instead of arresting the person caught with the personal amount of marijuana. That was a very significant public policy change in New York City because New York City was considered to be such an ‘arrest capital’ for marijuana. The shift towards decriminalization resulted in an immediate drop in arrests.
However, the number of people arrested for marijuana in New York has increased in the last year, causing concern for marijuana and criminal justice reform advocates. Per NY1:
Citing statistics from the state’s criminal justice department, the Police Reform Organizing Project says the NYPD made nearly 14,000 marijuana arrests in the first nine months of 2016.
That’s a 12-percent increase from the same time last year.
The report also accuses the NYPD of discriminatory arrests, saying 90 percent of those arrested were people of color.
There are a number of ways that people can still be arrested for marijuana in New York City, despite the standing decriminalization policy. Consuming marijuana in public is still a crime. Also selling marijuana is still a crime. Also, officers can still arrest someone for marijuana possession under 25 grams if they deem it to be appropriate, such as if the person isn’t carrying valid ID, or if the officer just wants to be a jerk. An explanation was offered at the time of the 2014 press conference in regards to how officers make the decision to arrest or issue a citation for possession of marijuana under 25 grams. Per CNN:
If the officer does decide to take the suspect into custody, the suspect would be handcuffed and taken to the station house for fingerprinting and a mugshot, Bratton said. Police didn’t specify the penalties but said they’d be tougher than for a citation.
As to how that decision would be made, de Blasio said, “An officer ultimately has to make the judgment on the scene.”
If ever there was a reason to call for legalization in New York, these statistics are it. 44.6% of New York City is white, the rest are people of color. The fact that 90% of marijuana arrests were of people of color given the demographic breakdown of New York City is enough to make me sick. I’m hopeful that the marijuana reform community bands together with the Police Reform Organizing Project to call for further reforms in New York.