It is no secret that marijuana prohibition disproportionately affects people of color. Racial minority communities experience arrest rates for marijuana that are significantly higher than arrest rates for Caucasians. An ACLU study once found that African Americans are almost 4 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana compared to Caucasians. In some parts of America, the difference is even greater.
New York State is home to disproportionate arrest rates. One example is in Buffalo, New York where African Americans are seven times as likely to be arrested for marijuana. In Erie County, New York African Americans make up 76% of arrests for low-level marijuana possession, despite only making up 18% of the county’s population. New York City is also home to disproportionate arrest rates among minority communities, as recently highlighted in an article by Politico an excerpt of which can be found below:
Data show that 86 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in the fifth degree during 2017 were people of color; 48 percent were black and 38 percent were Hispanic. Only 9 percent were white.
The NYPD has claimed that arrests for marijuana possession match where complaints are coming from, but a POLITICO analysis found no evidence in the data to back that up. The NYPD didn’t back off that assertion on Wednesday despite POLITICO’s analysis, but also did not address the arrest disparities in communities of color.
As of the 2010 census, roughly 33% of New York City was white, 26% was African American, and 26% was Latino to put the arrest rates into perspective. Sadly, New York City’s Mayor and the New York Police Department defended their marijuana enforcement strategy. The ongoing disproportionate marijuana arrest rates in New York City, as well as in other parts of the state, is the biggest reason that New York State needs to legalize marijuana.
Sure, generating taxes from adult-use marijuana sales is great, as is the jobs that a legalized adult-use industry would create in New York State. However, that is secondary to addressing the racial injustices that are going on right now, and have been going on for years. A poll from last month found that 56% of New Yorkers support legalization. A poll from late last year found that 62% of New York State voters approve of cannabis legalization. It’s beyond time that lawmakers in New York State stood up for what is right and got the state on the right side of history.