In eight states across America, and in Washington D.C., voters have legalized marijuana for adult use. Unless someone is doing something blatant, they are not going to be arrested for personal possession and use of marijuana, assuming they are 21 years of age or older. With the exception of Washington State, adults 21 or over can also cultivate cannabis in their residence under certain conditions.
But in 42 other states, marijuana is still very much illegal. One of those states is New York, which is of course home to New York City. New York City has been struggling with racial disparities in marijuana arrests for quite some time now. Many had hoped that the disparities in arrest rates would get better, but the math clearly shows that to not be the case. In a recent report by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, it was determined that arrest rates in New York City for people of color was nothing short of alarming. Per a press release about the report’s release:
The rates of NYPD arrests for marijuana possession per 100,000 of the population are extremely skewed. In Queens, police arrest Blacks at seven times the rate of whites. In Manhattan they arrest Blacks at 10 times the rate of whites. And in Staten Island the NYPD arrests Blacks at 15 times the rate of whites.
The report has led to the editorial board of The New York Times calling on district attorneys in the city to not prosecute marijuana offenses when people are caught with a personal amount of marijuana. Per the editorial board’s article that came out today:
These arrests have virtually no public safety benefit and can cause lasting damage to people who often have had no other contact with the criminal justice system. Charges are typically dismissed if people stay out of trouble for a year, but in that period, they can be denied jobs, housing and entry into the armed services.
The city needs to do more to minimize arrests. District attorneys can take the lead by refusing to prosecute most, if not all, of these cases.
Hopefully this article, combined with the new report about racial disparities in NYC marijuana arrest rates for people of color, results in some action. Until New York State ends marijuana prohibition, it is likely that the selective enforcement will continue. It is as important now as ever before for activists to push for legalization in New York so that these injustices don’t continue. Get active!