The Scandal of Racist Marijuana Arrests
(new Nov 2013 - from The Nation, and
The War on Marijuana in Black and White
from the ACLU)
SUMMONS OF THE NYPD: 550,000 A YEAR
NY City's Marijuana Possession Arrests
DOCUMENTING THE ARREST CRUSADE
JOURNALISM & COMMENTARY
GRAPHS & TABLES
• COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES
Stop and Frisk New York
• STOP & FRISK REPORTS AND DATA
• STOP & FRISK NYC (news excerpts)
• QUOTAS, QUOTAS, QUOTAS
• SCANDALS OF THE NYPD
Race and Marijuana Arrests, USA
• U.S. MARIJUANA ARRESTS
• 210,000 Marijuana Arrests in Colorado
• 240,000 Marijuana Arrests in Washington
WASHINGTON DC, CHICAGO, ETC.
• ABOUT MARIJUANA-ARRESTS.COM
ILLEGAL SEARCHES (coming)
July 2014: The New York
Times Comes out for
This time for Marijuana.
A week of amazing articles by a squad
of writers and editors.
All on line
The RACIAL DISPARITY of the
arrests is central to the NY Times's decision and conclusion, as various
"The sheer volume of law enforcement
resources devoted to marijuana is bad enough. What makes the situation far
worse is racial disparity. Whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the
same rates; on average, however, blacks are 3.7 times more likely than
whites to be arrested for possession, according to a comprehensive 2013
report by the A.C.L.U."
"In Iowa, blacks are 8.3 times more likely to be arrested, and in the
worst-offending counties in the country, they are up to 30 times more likely
to be arrested. The war on drugs aims its firepower overwhelmingly at
African-Americans on the street, while white users smoke safely behind
"Every arrest ends up on a person’s record, whether or not it leads to
prosecution and conviction. Particularly in poorer minority neighborhoods,
where young men are more likely to be outside and repeatedly targeted by law
enforcement, these arrests accumulate. Before long a person can have an
extensive “criminal history” that consists only of marijuana misdemeanors
and dismissed cases. That criminal history can then influence the severity
of punishment for a future offense, however insignificant."
"Even if a person never goes to prison, the conviction itself is the tip of
the iceberg. In a majority of states, marijuana convictions — including
those resulting from guilty pleas — can have lifelong consequences for
employment, education, immigration status and family life."
"A misdemeanor conviction can lead to, among many other things, the
revocation of a professional license; the suspension of a driver’s license;
the inability to get insurance, a mortgage or other bank loans; the denial
of access to public housing; and the loss of student financial aid."
"In some states, a felony conviction can result in a lifetime ban on voting,
jury service, or eligibility for public benefits like food stamps. People
can be fired from their jobs because of a marijuana arrest. Even if a judge
eventually throws the case out, the arrest record is often available online
for a year, free for any employer to look up."
"These arrests stigmatize, they criminalize, they create a permanent record.
It's not fair, it's not right, it must end, and it must end now."
State of the State remarks about marijuana arrests Jan. 9, 2013
NEW YORK CITY'S MARIJUANA POSSESSION ARRESTS
JOURNALISM AND COMMENTARY
kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do. And
African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less
likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh
penalties.... It’s important for society not to have a situation in which a
large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only
a select few get punished.”
− President Barack
Obama, quoted by David Remnick in
The New Yorker,
January 27, 2014.
7 Advocates Working To Reform Marijuana Laws In New
buzzfeed.com, Nov 27, 2013
In New York City, more people are arrested for marijuana
possession than for any other crime, at a cost of $600 million in taxpayer
money over the last decade.
Senator Liz Krueger is a hero, and marijuana-arrests.com gets a shout out.
Also worthy of mention (though not included in this article: the great many
other writers, reporters and journalists, especially on the web, who wrote
repeatedly about the racist marijuana arrests -- especially at Alternet,
Huffington, Salon, and Reason; Governor Cuomo (for raising the profile of
the issue); the NY Times editorial page (for regularly pointing out the huge
number, racial bias and wastefulness of the arrests, and their ties to stop
and frisks); NY State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for producing the
first and only study of arrests resulting from stop and frisks -- and
showing marijuana as the number one arrest;
Why New York Is
Considering Legalizing Marijuana
by Saki Knafo, Dec 13, 2013
Brief video of Liz Krueger and others.
At a press conference outside City Hall on Wednesday, state Sen. Liz
Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, specifically referred to the racial
discrepancy in marijuana-arrest rates while announcing her proposal to end
the prohibition of pot use altogether. The disproportionate arrest of blacks
amounts to a “civil-rights disaster,” she said.
How A Small-Time Marijuana Arrest Has Devastated A
Great Teacher’s Life
Meet Alberto Willmore, a popular New York City public school teacher. His
life was turned upside down when he was falsly arrested for pot possession
post on December 8, 2013. a film by Julie Dressner and Jesse Hicks (10
"A Marijuana Stash That
Carried Little Risk" by Jim Dwyer, New York Times, Nov 14, 2013
down Eighth Avenue a few weeks ago, I made sure my backpack was fully zipped
shut. Inside was a modest stash of pot, bought just an hour or so earlier. A
friend knew someone in that world, and after an introduction, then a quiet,
discreet meeting, I was on my way to the subway. Never before had I walked
through Midtown Manhattan with it on my person. There were four cookies in
vacuum-sealed pouches — “edibles” is the technical term — and then a few
pinches of what was described as “herb.”
The innovations of Michael R. Bloomberg as mayor are legion, but his
enforcement of marijuana laws has broken all records. More people have been
arrested for marijuana possession than any other crime on the books. From
2002 through 2012, 442,000 people were charged with misdemeanors for openly
displaying or burning 25 grams or less of pot. I wasn’t sure about the
weight of my stash — although a digital scale was used in the transaction, I
didn’t see the display — but it didn’t feel too heavy. Still, I wasn’t about
to openly display or burn it. IT turns out that there was little to fret
over. While scores of people are arrested on these charges every day in New
York, the laws apparently don’t apply to middle-aged white guys. Or at least
they aren’t enforced against us.
“It is your age that would make you most unusual for an arrest,” said
Professor Harry Levine, a Queens College sociologist who has documented
marijuana arrests in New York and across the country. “If you were a
56-year-old white woman, you might get to be the first such weed bust ever
in New York City — except, possibly, for a mentally ill person.”
About 87 percent of the marijuana arrests in the Bloomberg era have been of
blacks and Latinos, most of them men, and generally under the age of 25 —
although surveys consistently show that whites are more likely to use it.
These drug busts were the No. 1 harvest of the city’s stop, question and
frisk policing from 2009 through 2012, according to a report released
Thursday by the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman.
Marijuana possession was the most common charge of those arrested during
those stops. The few whites and Asians arrested on these charges were 50
percent more likely than blacks to have the case “adjourned in contemplation
of dismissal,” the report showed.
"A Report On Arrests Arising From The New
York City Police Department’s Stop-And-Frisk Practices," New York State
Attorney General, Civil Rights Bureau, November 2013
The most common arrest
charges in the pool of [stop and frisk] arrests span a wide range of felony
and misdemeanor offenses. The most common offense categories charged at
arrest were marijuana possession (14.9%), trespass (13.8%), violence
(12.9%), weapons offenses (12.3%), and minor property crimes (11.6%).17
These categories account for more than half—65.5%—of all [stop and frisk]
arrest charges. At arraignment, the distribution was fairly similar, with
one exception. The most common categories at arraignment were marijuana
possession (16.4%), trespass (13.8%), minor property crimes (13.7%), weapons
offenses (11.7%), and violence (11.4%). Additionally, drug offenses, which
include both sale and possession of controlled substances (other than
marijuana) or paraphernalia, increased in prevalence at arraignment to
10.8%. Together, these six categories account for over three-fourths (77.6%)
of arraigned cases.
"Review of Stop-and-Frisk Is Planned in
Brooklyn; Winner in Race for District Attorney Promises New Scrutiny of
Police Tactic," by Sean Gardiner, Wall Street Journal, Sept 11, 2013
The former federal prosecutor
poised to become Brooklyn's next district attorney vowed Wednesday that
low-level marijuana arrests and the New York Police Department's
stop-and-frisk policy would come under greater scrutiny once he assumes
office in January.
Speaking on a street corner in the Clinton Hill neighborhood where he lives
with his family, Ken Thompson answered questions for almost an hour the
afternoon after he defeated six-term incumbent Charles Hynes. Mr. Thompson
will be the borough's first black D.A.
Mr. Thompson said he planned to station an assistant district attorney in
the police precincts where officers make the most stops in the city—the 75th
Precinct in East New York and the 73rd in Brownsville. Those prosecutors
will scrutinize every arrest resulting from so-called stop-and-frisk
encounters. Cases found to be constitutionally insufficient would be dropped
"right there on the spot," Mr. Thompson said. "I want to make sure the
people that come into the criminal-justice system, belong in the
criminal-justice system," he said....
Mr. Thompson also said that arrests for small amounts of marijuana are
"clogging up the criminal -justice system" and diverting resources from
fighting more serious crime. He said he would order his prosecutors to issue
noncriminal violations in cases of people arrested for possessing 25 grams
of marijuana or less. That would mirror state law, but officers make
thousands of arrests for small amounts of pot because the law elevates it to
a misdemeanor if the marijuana is displayed publicly.
Mr. Thompson said many of those public-display pot arrests occur only after
officers ordered people they have stopped to empty their pockets. "That's
not right," Mr. Thompson said.
Should legislators legalize marijuana? by
Crain's New York Business, August 19, 2013
City Comptroller John Liu last week said that if he were elected mayor he
would fight to legalize marijuana, becoming the third candidate after Sal
Albanese and Joseph Lhota to support legalizing the drug. Other
candidates running for mayor have said laws should be relaxed to
decriminalize the drug or allow for medical use.
"Albany's Unlikely Marijuana Legalization
Champion," by Dana Rubinstein, CAPITAL. May 24, 2013
Why is Krueger carrying the standard for marijuana legalization, anyway? A
white, 55-year old woman representing an Upper East Side district in which
arrests for marijuana aren't exactly a monumental issue, and who says she
last smoked weed at a Cheech and Chong movie in 1977, would seem to be an
odd champion for the case. But Krueger says those things are precisely what
make her the right person to get it done, or to try.
“When I started to discuss it with the drug policy specialists, they said,
'You know, you’re sort of a good one to carry this,'” she told me. “'You
aren’t a stoner. You’re not someone who’s an obvious suspect for doing
"I have a very white, upper-middle-class district," she continued. "The kids
of my constituents are not getting busted, and if they get busted, they have
really good lawyers and they’re not ending up with criminal records.”
And yet, she said, “I saw the pain and suffering that our current laws were
inflicting, disproportionately on young, poor people. I saw the amount of
money we were spending in the criminal justice system unnecessarily. And I
can come up with endless better ways to spend that money. I saw young people
having their lives ruined before they ever got out of high school, because
they ended up with the kind of criminal record that wouldn’t let them get
college tuition assistance, or scholarships, or be eligible to apply for
certain kinds of jobs.
"If you have a marijuana bust, you can never go to work as a policeman, or
fireman or a sanitation worker. Like, seriously?”
"A New (non-smoking) Champion for Marijuana
Legalization in New York" by Dana Rubinstein, CAPITAL, May 17, 2013
“It is my intention as a New York
State senator to soon introduce a law that would actually decriminalize,
regulate and tax marijuana in New York,” said State Senator Liz Krueger, an
Upper East Side liberal, on Wednesday night. The room full of marijuana
enthusiasts erupted into applause.
Liz Krueger is not, as she noted, a stoner. She says she last inhaled in the
1970s. But at the Wedneday evening forum she hosted at Baruch College about
her bid to legalize pot, she emerged as the unlikely hero of New York
State’s marijuana legalization movement.
Under Krueger's draft “Marijuana,
Regulation, and Taxation Act,” first released Wednesday night, New York
adults would be allowed to grow up to six pot plants at home. New Yorkers
could buy and sell weed just like they buy and sell alcohol. And like
alcohol, the business of weed sales would be regulated by the New York State
Marijuana Reform Panel featuring State
Senator Liz Krueger, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, Julie
Holland,MD, Alfredo Carrasquillo of VOCAL-NY, and Lt. Joanne Noughton,
NYPD (Ret.). May 2013 - VIDEO
"Out of One Gram of
Marijuana, a ‘Manufactured Misdemeanor’" by Jim Dwyer, New York Times, March
These arrests are a tumorous outgrowth of the stop-and-frisk practices and
are now broadly recognized as scandalous. No public official defends them.
Yet they remain out of control.... Every district attorney in New York City,
Mr. Kelly, Mr. Bloomberg, the state sheriffs, and every other major law
enforcement agency have endorsed changing the law to make it a misdemeanor
only if a person were actually burning — smoking — the pot. The changes were
proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Nevertheless, it became clear on Thursday
that the law would not change during the meetings of the Legislature to
decide a state budget.
Arrests in NYC Cost One Million Police Hours by Gabriel Sayegh, Huffington
Post, March 20, 2013
NYPD used approximately 1,000,000
hours of police officer time making marijuana possession arrests during
Mayor Bloomberg's tenure. These are hours that police officers might have
otherwise have spent investigating and solving serious crimes.
"NYPD Spent 1 Million Hours Making 440,000 Marijuana Possession Arrests Over
Last Decade" by Matt Sledge, Huffington Post, March 19, 2013
The NYPD spent 1 million hours
making 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession charges between
2002 and 2012, according to a new report released Tuesday -- just as
legislative leaders in Albany are deciding whether to pass a bill reforming
drug laws. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research
Project, pro-drug law reform groups that commissioned the report, said its
findings show a "huge waste" of police resources.
"New York Thinks Decriminalizing Pot Is Easier than Confronting Bloomberg"
by Philip Bump, The Atlantic Wire, March 19, 2013
[Long thoughtful data-rich article about stop and frisks, race, and
here for the report "One Million Police Hours."
Other Articles about "One Million Police Hours: Making 440,000 Marijuana
Possession Arrests in New York City, 2002-2012" March 2013
Shame! NYC Cops Spent One Million Hours on
Marijuana Arrests Over 11 Years:
NYPD Spent 1 Million Hours Over Last
Decade On Marijuana Arrests, Analysis Finds
NYPD Marijuana Arrests Scandal Blows Up Again by Dave
Shame! NYC Cops Spent One Million Hours on Marijuana Arrests Over 11 Years:
Majority Arrested, Black and Latino Youth by Mark Karlin
Governor Cuomo's State of the
State remarks about marijuana arrests Jan 9, 2013
"An Ineffective Way to Fight
Crime," Editorial New York Times, November 22, 2012
More than a year has passed since Commissioner
Raymond Kelly of the New York Police Department issued a memorandum ordering
officers to follow a 1977 state law that bars them from arresting people
with small amounts of marijuana unless the drug is being publicly displayed.
Even so, a lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society in June and pending in
state court makes the case that the police are still arresting people
illegally in clear violation of both the commissioner’s directive and the
state law. More than 50,000 possession arrests were made last year.
Law enforcement officers have
often described these arrests as a way of reining in criminals whose other,
more serious activities present a danger to the public. But state statistics
show that of the nearly 12,000 teenagers arrested last year, nearly 94
percent had no prior convictions and nearly half had never been arrested.
Now a new study by Human Rights
Watch further debunks the main premise of New York City’s “broken windows”
law enforcement campaign, which holds that clamping down on small offenses
like simple marijuana possession prevents serious crime and gets hard-core
criminals off the streets.
The study tracked about 30,000
people arrested for marijuana possession in 2003-4 — none of whom had prior
convictions — for periods of six-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half years. The
study found that about only 1,000 of them had a subsequent violent felony
conviction. Some had misdemeanor or felony drug convictions, but more than
90 percent of the study group had no felony convictions whatsoever. The
report concluded that the Police Department was sweeping “large numbers of
people into New York City’s criminal justice system — particularly young
people of color — who do not subsequently engage in violent crime.” This
wastes millions of dollars and unfairly puts people through the criminal
The Legislature could go a long
way toward ending unfair prosecutions by adopting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s
proposal to make public display of a small amount of marijuana a violation,
unless the person was smoking the drug in public.
"New York: Few Arrested for Pot
Become Violent Criminals: Police Offer no Public Safety Explanation for
Massive Marijuana Arrests," Human Rights Watch, November 23, 2012
(New York) – Few of those who
enter New York City’s criminal justice system as a result of marijuana
possession arrests become dangerous criminals, Human Rights Watch said in a
report released today.
With the 33-page report, “A Red
Herring: Marijuana Arrestees Do Not Become Violent Felons,” Human Rights
Watch offers new data indicating that people who enter the criminal justice
system with an arrest for public possession of marijuana rarely commit
violent crimes in the future. Over the last 15 years, New York City police
have arrested more than 500,000 people – most of them young blacks or
Hispanics – on misdemeanor charges of possessing small amounts of marijuana
in public view. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the police have said the
arrests have helped reduce violent crime, they have never specified how.
“Our findings support those of
other researchers who question the public safety gains from massive
marijuana arrests,” said Jamie Fellner, senior adviser to the US Program at
Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “Public officials need to
explain exactly how placing thousands of people in cuffs each year for
possessing pot reduces violent crime.”
Using data provided by the New
York Department of Criminal Justice Services, Human Rights Watch tracked
until mid-2011 the subsequent criminal records of nearly 30,000 people who
had no prior convictions when they were arrested for marijuana possession in
public view in 2003 and 2004. Ninety percent of the group had no subsequent
felony convictions. Only 3.1 percent were subsequently convicted of one
violent felony offense. An additional 0.4 percent had two or more violent
According to Human Rights Watch’s
data, the New York City police sweep large numbers of people into the the
city’s criminal justice system – particularly young people of color – who do
not go on to become dangerous felons. These findings are consistent with and
add to research by Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College, City
University of New York, which shows that the preponderance of marijuana
arrestees do not have prior criminal convictions.
Allegations that the city’s marijuana possession arrests are racially
discriminatory, violate constitutional rights, and cost the city hundreds of
millions of dollars in law enforcement and court expenses are the subject of
ongoing litigation and controversy.
In June, Governor Andrew Cuomo
unsuccessfully attempted to have new legislation passed that would reduce
the penalties for marijuana possession in public view by making it a
non-criminal violation instead of a misdemeanor. Bloomberg, Police
Commissioner Raymond Kelley, and the five district attorneys of New York
City all supported the legislation.
Convictions for misdemeanor
marijuana possession, and even arrests that are not followed by a
conviction, can have far-reaching adverse consequences for those arrested,
including by diminishing their opportunities for employment, housing, and
loans. Referring to those arrested for criminal possession of marijuana in
public view, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has said, “The human
cost to each one of these people and their families is serious and it is
“As long as they keep arresting
people, and making them pay such a heavy price for possessing marijuana in
public view, New York City officials owe the public an explanation for how
those arrests contribute to public safety, ” said Issa Kohler-Hausmann,
co-author of the report and consultant at Human Rights Watch for this
project. “If these arrests have crime control benefits that outweigh the
costs, public officials have yet to identify them.”
Human Rights Watch Report: "A RED HERRING: MARIJUANA ARRESTEES DO NOT BECOME
VIOLENT CRIMINALS. NOV 2012 is here as a pdf:
Claims Police are Still Making Illegal Marijuana Arrests, BronxInk.org,
October 28, 2012
For 38-year-old Obediah Poteat, being stopped and
frisked by the police is just a part of life in the East Tremont section of
the Bronx where he lives with his wife and five children. What’s worse, he
said, is that officers end up arresting people for minor crimes, like
disorderly conduct or having small amounts of marijuana in their pockets.
“They are always trying to find a reason to put their hands on you,” said
Poteat, who has been stopped multiple times, but never arrested. “To search
you, to arrest you for whatever.”
Even though the New York City Police Department’s
stop-and-frisk policy is meant to only uncover guns, it has resulted in more
and more arrests when officers inadvertently find marijuana in people’s
According to a July New York Times editorial, the
number of arrests citywide for possession of small amounts of marijuana
increased from less than 1,000 in 1990 to 50,000 in 2011. Almost 94 percent
of the 16-to-19-year-olds arrested last year had no prior convictions and
nearly half had no arrest record.
In September of last year, Police Commissioner Raymond
Kelly released a memo instructing officers not to arrest people who have
small amounts of marijuana only if the drugs were in public view at the time
of the initial stop. The memo cites a 1977 New York State law that changed
the treatment of offenders caught with a small amount of marijuana from
being grounds for arrest. Instead officers are to issue a summons ticket,
similar to a speeding ticket. The maximum penalty under New York State law
for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana that is not burning or in
public view is a $100 fine.
Nine months later the Legal Aid Society filed suit
against the police department in New York State Supreme Court charging
officers with ignoring the commissioner’s directive, continuing their
“illegal marijuana arrest practices.”
Plaintiffs in the case included residents of the Bronx,
Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.
The Legal Aid Society drew early support for its case from an unlikely
source, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. The former mayor published an
op-ed in the Huffington Post in June supporting Legal Aid’s efforts to stop
misdemeanor possession arrests. Koch qualified his support for
stop-and-frisk saying he would only continue his support for the policy so
long as it is not used to falsely make criminals out of citizens.....
The lead Legal Aid Society attorney on the marijuana
arrest practices case said police need to be bound by court orders, “Our
objective is to stop this business of improperly arresting people and taking
them down to central booking,” said Thomas O’Brien. “It leaves a troubling
stain on their record.” The case is still pending, awaiting a judge to be
Dumbest Drug Laws in America, by Mike Riggs, Reason.com, August 23, 2012
1.) In New York, following a police officer's instructions can lead to
In New York, possession of small amounts of pot has been
decriminalized, but it's still a crime to take the pot out of your pocket
and wave it around like you just don't care. That distinction — between
possession and display — seems pretty simple on its face. How hard could it
be to keep your weed out of view? Not hard at all, unless an officer with
the NYPD stops you as part of the city's stop-and-frisk policy, and asks you
to empty out your trousers.
In that case, the simple act of pulling out your weed for
inspection qualifies as display. According to The New York Times, this
Kafkaesque paradox results in "tens of thousands of young black and Latino
men who are stopped by the New York City police for other reasons...being
charged with a crime" after emptying their pockets.
While NYPD Chief Ray Kelly instructed his officers earlier
this year to stop arresting people for doing what they're told, arrests for
pot display haven't fallen all that much. In June, New York Gov. Andrew
Cuomo argued for extending marijuana decriminalization to include display
(though not smoking). The proposal was endorsed by law enforcement leaders
across New York City, civil and human rights groups, and drug policy
reformers; but at 11th hour, Republicans in Albany declared they'd have no
truck with further liberalizing New York's pot laws.
"Breaking News: New York Teenagers Like Smoking Weed" By James King, Village
Voice, August, 13 2012
In what might come to a
shock as precisely no one, teenagers in New York like to smoke weed. What is
somewhat shocking is the number of teens willing to admit that they
like smoking weed.
A new survey conducted by
the Centers For Disease Control shows that 17.7 percent of New York City
teens smoke pot -- and are willing to admit it to pollsters.
That figure is the highest
rate of teenage potheads since health bully/New York City Mayor Mike
Bloomberg began his reign over the health habits of New Yorkers 10 years ago
-- the rate is up from 12.3 percent in 2005.
"The Marijuana Arrest Problem, Continued" Editorial, New York Times, July
Commissioner Raymond Kelly of the New York
Police Department issued a memorandum in September ordering officers to
follow a 1977 state law that bars them from arresting people with small
amounts of marijuana, unless the drug is publicly displayed.
Yet a lawsuit filed in
state court in late June charges that the police were still arresting people
illegally — in clear violation of both the law and the memo — as recently as
May. State data show that the number of marijuana arrests declined in the
months after the directive was issued but began climbing again this spring.
The Legislature passed the
1977 decriminalization law to allow prosecutors to focus on serious crime
and to stop police from jailing young people for tiny amounts of marijuana.
It made possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana a violation punishable
by a $100 fine for the first offense. To discourage public smoking of the
drug, lawmakers made public display a misdemeanor punishable by up to three
months in jail and a $500 fine.
The number of arrests in
the city for minor possession declined after the law was passed but shot up
from less than 1,000 in 1990 to 50,000 in 2011. And, of the nearly 12,000
16-to-19-year-olds arrested last year, almost 94 percent had no prior
convictions and nearly half had never before been arrested. More than 80
percent of those arrested were black and Hispanic young people.
Defense lawyers have
increasingly made the case that officers were illegally charging suspects
with “public possession” after directing them to reveal the drug or fishing
it out of their pockets during constitutionally questionable searches. The
new lawsuit, filed by the Legal Aid Society, lists five plaintiffs, all of
whom lawyers say were illegally arrested this spring. In one case, according
to the lawsuit, the police officer admitted in a supporting deposition that
he had searched the individual and retrieved the drugs to make the arrest.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to
end unfair prosecutions with a measure to make public possession a
violation, unless the person was smoking the marijuana in public. The State
Senate killed the bill. With Albany’s failure to act, the courts need to
step in to stop this abusive behavior.
"Numbers Tell of Failure in Drug War" By Eduardo Porter, New York Times,
July 3, 2012
....The only dimension
along which the war on drugs might be conceived as a success is political.
If you ask Americans how concerned they are about drugs, they will give you
roughly the same answer they have given for years: not so much.
In a Gallup poll, only 31
percent of Americans said they thought the government was making much
progress dealing with illegal drugs, the lowest share since 1997. But fewer
people say they worry about drug abuse than 10 years ago. Only 29 percent of
Americans think it is an extremely or very serious problem where they live,
the lowest share in the last decade.
But the government has
spent $20 billion to $25 billion a year on counternarcotics efforts over the
last decade. That is a pretty high price tag for political cover, to stop
drugs from becoming a prominent issue on voters’ radar screen. It becomes
unacceptably high if you add in the real costs of the drug wars. That
includes more than 55,000 Mexicans and tens of thousands of Central
Americans killed by drug-fueled violence since Mexico’s departing president,
Felipe Calderón, declared war six years ago against the traffickers ferrying
drugs across the border.
And the domestic costs are
enormous, too. Almost one in five inmates in state prisons and half of those
in federal prisons are serving time for drug offenses. In 2010, 1.64 million
people were arrested for drug violations. Four out of five arrests were for
possession. Nearly half were for possession of often-tiny amounts of
Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College of the City University of New
York, told me that processing each of the roughly 85,000 arrests for drug
misdemeanors in New York City last year cost the city $1,500 to $2,000. And
that is just the cost to the budget. Hundreds of thousands of Americans,
mostly black and poor, are unable to get a job, a credit card or even an
apartment to rent because of the lasting stigma of a criminal record for
carrying an ounce of marijuana.
Cracking down hard on drug
users may sound great on the stump. But Americans who inject drugs are four
times as likely to have H.I.V. as British addicts and seven times as likely
as drug-injecting Swiss, mainly because the United States has been much
slower in introducing needle exchanges and other measures to address the
impact of drug abuse on public health.
The Obama administration
acknowledges the limitations of the drug wars, and has shifted its
priorities, focusing more on drug abuse prevention and treatment of addicts,
and less on enforcement.
Still, many critics of the
current policy believe the solution is to legalize — to bring illegal drugs
out of the shadows where they are controlled by criminal gangs, into the
light of the legal market where they can be regulated and taxed by the
Jeffrey Miron, an economist
at Harvard who studies drug policy closely, has suggested that legalizing
all illicit drugs would produce net benefits to the United States of some
$65 billion a year, mostly by cutting public spending on enforcement as well
as through reduced crime and corruption.
A study by analysts at the
RAND Corporation, a California research organization, suggested that if
marijuana were legalized in California and the drug spilled from there to
other states, Mexican drug cartels would lose about a fifth of their annual
income of some $6.5 billion from illegal exports to the United States.
A growing array of Latin
American presidents have asked for the United States to consider legalizing
some drugs, like marijuana. Even Mr. Calderón is realizing the futility of
the war against the narco-syndicates. He asked President Obama and the
United States Congress last month to consider “market solutions” to reduce
the cash flow to criminal groups.
Legalization may carry
risks, too. Peter H. Reuter, one of the authors of the RAND study, who is
now a professor of public policy in the department of criminology of the
University of Maryland, said he worried that legalizing drugs would vastly
expand drug abuse, leading to other potential social and health costs.
Supporters of the war on drugs insist that without it, consumption would
have soared to the heights of the 1980s and perhaps beyond.
There are other options.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose membership includes former
presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Brazil and Poland, has called on
national governments to “depenalize” if not necessarily legalize drug
possession and sales.
This means stopping the
arrest and imprisonment of people who use drugs but cause no harm to others,
and going easy on small-scale dealers, whose arrest does nothing to dent the
flow of illegal drugs. It means focusing enforcement efforts on reducing the
violence of the drug trade, rather than eliminating the drug market itself.
It may also entail giving drugs to the most addicted users, to get them into
clinics and off the streets.
Such policies require a
drastic change of approach in Mexico and the United States. Their
governments could start by acknowledging that drug dependence is a complex
condition that is not solved through punishment, and that numbers of addicts
or dealers arrested, or tons of drugs seized, are hardly measures of
A war on drugs whose
objective is to eradicate the drug market — to stop drugs from arriving in
the United States and stop Americans from swallowing, smoking, inhaling or
injecting them — is a war that cannot be won. What we care about is the harm
that drugs, drug trafficking and drug policy do to individuals, society and
even national security. Reducing this harm is a goal worth fighting for.
“Stop-And-Frisk and the Marijuana Misdemeanor Arrests
Outrage” By Ed Koch (Former Mayor, New York City), Huffington Post, June 26, 2012
great injustice is being perpetrated by members of the New York City Police
Department on the people of this city.... According to the [New York]
Times of June 23rd,
"Nine months ago, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly issued a
memorandum directing police officers not to make misdemeanor arrests for
possession of small quantities of marijuana discovered when suspects are
ordered to empty their pockets in stop, question and frisk encounters.
But police officers have continued to charge New Yorkers with
misdemeanor crimes -- rather than issuing them tickets for violations --
for possession of small amounts of marijuana despite Mr. Kelly's
directive, according to a lawsuit filed on Friday by the Legal Aid
urge all five district attorneys to publicly state that they will not
prosecute anyone charged with marijuana possession for personal use -- other
than for a violation. The hideous part of all of this is that studies
show that whites are the greater users of marijuana, not blacks or
Hispanics. It is black and Hispanic youths who are being arrested and end up
with criminal records, destroying many of their already limited
opportunities for getting jobs and achieving a better life. This is
unacceptable in a society that believes it is devoted to justice and
I want to congratulate the
Legal Aid Society's efforts, led by Steven Banks, for bringing a lawsuit to
end the arrests and punish the individual cops who have failed and are
failing to carry out the order of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Those young
men and women who have received misdemeanor sentences unfairly when
violations would have been appropriate, should be given the opportunity to
have their records cleared of the erroneous charge.
If the Governor is unable
to enlist Dean Skelos in passing the needed legislation now, not next year,
I believe we should have a mass rally in City Hall Plaza to demand that
the state legislature pass it. The election in November will allow us to
punish those who refuse to protect the sons and daughters of this state who
are unfairly designated as criminals by the very people they elect.
“NYPD Sued Over Stop and Frisk Marijuana Arrests” by Phillip Smith,
Drug War Chronicle, June 25,
The Legal Aid Society in
New York City announced last Friday that it had filed a lawsuit against the
NYPD over its continuing practice of making misdemeanor marijuana possession
arrests when they order suspects to empty their pockets during the
department's controversial stop and frisk searches. Police Commissioner
Raymond issued a memorandum last fall directing police not to make the
arrests, but only to ticket pot possession offenders, but police continue to
charge people with misdemeanors, according to the lawsuit.
"It's certainly a sad
commentary that the commissioner can issue a directive that reads well on
paper but on the street corners of the city doesn't exist," said Legal Aid's
chief lawyer, Steven Banks. Under New York state law, marijuana possession
is decriminalized, but public possession remains a misdemeanor. In New York
City, police order suspects to empty their pockets, then charge them with
public possession if a baggie appears....
The Legal Aid Society filed
the suit on behalf of five New Yorkers, all of whom were arrested since
mid-April on misdemeanor possession charges after small amounts of pot were
found on them during police stops. In each case, the marijuana became
visible only after officers searched the men or asked them to empty their
"These five individuals are
New Yorkers who were essentially victimized by unlawful police practices,"
Banks said. "The lawsuit is aimed at stopping a pernicious police practice,
which is harming thousands of New Yorkers a year and clogging up the court
system with one out of seven criminal cases and diverting resources and
attention from more serious criminal matters."
One plaintiff, Juan
Gomez-Garcia, said he was waiting for a food order outside a Kennedy Fried
Chicken restaurant in the Bronx on May 16 when an officer approached, began
to question him and asked if he had any drugs on him. Mr. Gomez-Garcia, 27,
said that after he admitted to the officer that he had marijuana in his
pocket, the officer reached inside the pocket and removed a plastic bag
containing a small amount of the drug.
He was arrested and charged
with "open to public view" possession for having marijuana "in his right
hand." He spent about 12 hours in a jail cell and was let go after he
pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct violation, according to the lawsuit.
Because of the NYPD's
massive stop-and-frisk program -- aimed overwhelmingly at young people of
color -- and because of the department's willful misinterpretation of the
law and refusal to follow Commissioner Kelly's directive, New York City is
the nation's marijuana arrest capital. Around 50,000 people a year are
charged with misdemeanor pot possession.
According to the Legal Aid
Society, NYPD continues to arrest people for pot possession at about the
same pace as ever. While arrests dipped below 3,000 in December, by March,
the number of arrests had risen to 4,186, a number almost identical to the
4,189 arrests made last August, before Kelly issued his directive.
Young arrestees chained together led into the Brooklyn Court House. Photo:
"NYPD Facing Lawsuit For Ignoring Kelly's Stop-And-Frisks Pot Order" By
Rebecca Fishbein, Gothamist, June 23, 2012
The Legal Aid Society has filed a lawsuit against the city and the NYPD for
ignoring Commissioner Kelly's order last September to police officers to
stop making misdemeanor arrests for small quantities of marijuana hidden
from public view during stop-and-frisks.
The lawsuit, which was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan yesterday,
alleges that police officers are still charging New Yorkers with
misdemeanors when finding them in possession of small amounts of hidden
marijuana; while arrests on the lowest-level marijuana charges (possession
of less than 25 grams in public view) dropped considerably right after
Kelly's order was made last fall, they have since continued to climb. In
March 2012, 4,186 arrests were made, as compared to 4,189 arrests in August
2011, and the defendants were typically men of color....
Friday's suit was brought on by five New Yorkers who, since mid-April, were
forced to bring small quantities of marijuana hidden in their backpacks or
pockets into public view upon being subject to an NYPD stop-and-frisk. They
were all subsequently arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession. "The
police…repeatedly failed, and continue to fail to follow the law," the 28
page lawsuit reads. "And as a result, subject these individuals to the full
arrest process, with all of its direct and collateral negative
When we asked NYPD officers about Kelly's order during our trip to the
stop-and-frisk training facility this week, they told us that officers
weren't being trained to incorporate it. Meanwhile, New York remains the
number one city to get arrested for low-level pot possession.
Lawsuit Accuses Police of Ignoring Directive on Marijuana Arrests, By Wendy
Ruderman and Joseph Goldstein, New York Times, June 22, 2012
months ago, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly issued a memorandum
directing police officers not to make arrests for possession of small
quantities of marijuana discovered when suspects are ordered to empty their
pockets in stop, question and frisk encounters.
police officers have continued to charge New Yorkers with misdemeanor crimes
— rather than issuing them tickets for violations — for possession of small
amounts of marijuana despite Mr. Kelly’s directive, according to a lawsuit
filed on Friday by the Legal Aid Society.
“It’s certainly a sad commentary that the commissioner can issue a directive
that reads well on paper but on the street corners of the city doesn’t
exist,” said Legal Aid’s chief lawyer, Steven Banks.
28-page lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against the city
and the Police Department, seeks a court order declaring the practice
illegal under state law and prohibiting officers from making such arrests.
The Police Department would not immediately comment on the lawsuit.
Aid lawyers brought the suit on behalf of five New Yorkers who, they say,
were victims of “gotcha” police tactics. The five men were all arrested
since mid-April, four in Brooklyn and one on Staten Island; they were
charged with misdemeanor possession after small amounts of marijuana were
found on them during police stops. In each case, the marijuana became
visible only after officers searched the men or asked them to empty their
pockets, the suit says.
state law, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense when the drug is
being smoked or “open to public view.” Possession of less than 25 grams of
marijuana out of public view — for example, inside an individual’s pocket or
backpack — is a violation, warranting only a ticket.
“These five individuals are New Yorkers who were essentially victimized by
unlawful police practices,” Mr. Banks said. “The lawsuit is aimed at
stopping a pernicious police practice, which is harming thousands of New
Yorkers a year and clogging up the court system with one out of seven
criminal cases and diverting resources and attention from more serious
plaintiff, Juan Gomez-Garcia, said he was waiting for a food order outside a
Kennedy Fried Chicken restaurant in the Bronx on May 16 when an officer
approached, began to question him and asked if he had any drugs on him. Mr.
Gomez-Garcia, 27, said that after he admitted to the officer that he had
marijuana in his pocket, the officer reached inside the pocket and removed a
plastic bag containing a small amount of the drug.
arrested and charged with “open to public view” possession for having
marijuana “in his right hand.” He spent about 12 hours in a jail cell and
was let go after he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct violation,
according to the lawsuit.
In New York City, many of the tens of thousands of misdemeanor marijuana
arrests made each year have been a result of stop-and-frisk encounters in
which drugs hidden on a person are brought into public view only because of
a police officer’s frisk or instructions that a person empty his or her
pockets, according to lawyers in the suit.
effort to end these prosecutions, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sought this month to
decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in public view. The Legislature did
not act on the proposal.
Critics of the Police Department’s enforcement policy said that police
officers have been willfully misinterpreting the state’s marijuana laws for
more than a decade to produce more arrests. Earlier this month, testifying
before the City Council, Mr. Banks presented statistics that he said showed
that officers had also been ignoring Mr. Kelly’s order, issued in September
In August 2011, 4,189 people were arrested in New York City for misdemeanor
marijuana possession, Mr. Banks said. While the arrests dipped below 3,000
in December, the “decline was only temporary,” he said, adding that by
March, the number of arrests had risen to 4,186
full text of the legal document -- the complaint -- is here:
"What’s Missing From This Picture?" Editorial, New
York Times, June 22, 2012
York lawmakers had little reason to celebrate the conclusion of this year’s
legislative session on Thursday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the Legislature
effusively for its work, but he failed to mention how he and lawmakers
created corrupt legislative districts that will remain for a decade — the
worst political act of the session....
The State Senate majority
leader, Dean Skelos, has tried to make a joke of Mr. Cuomo’s efforts to
decriminalize public possession of small amounts marijuana. Possessing a
small amount of marijuana in New York is a violation, unless the marijuana
is shown in public, which can result in a misdemeanor and a criminal record.
The problem, defense lawyers say, is that police officers sometimes induce
people to empty their pockets, as a way of getting an arrest. Too many black
and Hispanic youths, especially in New York City, have their lives
permanently scarred because of unfair enforcement of the current law. It
needs to be changed.
"Spin City: Inside The NYPD's Stop & Frisk
Training Facility" By Christopher Robbins, The Gothamist, June 21, 2012
Yesterday the NYPD loaded reporters onto a bus and drove them up to the
Bronx to view their updated stop-and-frisk training program at the
department's Rodman's Neck facility... The surreality ended at the
press conference, which followed the live-action demonstrations of three
stop-and-frisk scenarios that 1,300 "high-impact" officers (those most
likely to conduct stops) have completed since April, and are now required
for new recruits...
We asked if the new training incorporated Commissioner Kelly's order in
September to stop arresting citizens (mostly young men of color) who are
essentially tricked into bringing small amounts of marijuana into public
view—turning violations into misdemeanors—during stop-and-frisks. "That's
not currently part of the training," O'Keefe said.
Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne asked Inspector Kerry
Sweet, the executive officer of the NYPD's Legal Bureau to chime in. "We
enforce the law as it is," Sweet said, as another six people were arrested
for marijuana possession. "If there are legislative changes, we will address
"Gov. Cuomo Says Republicans Sink To 'New Low' Over Fight To Decriminalize
Small Amounts Of Marijuana" By Glenn Blain, New York Daily News, June 20,
Governor claims GOP have
buckled to the ultra-conservative wing of the party in an effort to block
bill and says opposition to marijuana reform will cost them in November
ALBANY — The fight over
getting high on marijuana has plunged relations between Gov. Cuomo and state
Senate Republicans to a new low.
The governor bashed the
GOP-controlled Senate Wednesday for knuckling under to the
“ultra-conservative side of the party” and blocking his bill to
decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of weed.
“The Conservative Party
made their voice heard,” Cuomo said during an Albany radio appearance. “I
think there is no doubt but that the state Senate heard the conservative
wing of the party and they’re reacting to it,” Cuomo added.
Cuomo, in a not-so-veiled
threat, said the Senate’s opposition to marijuana reform and legislation to
raise the minimum wage would cost them in November elections. “There is no
place in this state for extreme conservative theory,” Cuomo said. “If the
Senate wants to run as extreme conservatives, how much do you want to bet on
the outcome in November?”
Cuomo’s broadside marked
one of his first and strongest criticisms of the Senate GOP — and a
full-throated transition into campaign mode.
"Divide in Albany Kills Proposal on Marijuana" By Thomas Kaplan and John
Eligon, New York Times, June 19, 2012
Democrats who control the State Assembly, many
of them black or Latino residents of New York City, saw a proposal to
decriminalize the open possession of small amounts of marijuana as a simple
matter of justice: too many black and Latino men were being arrested
because, after being stopped by the police, they were forced to empty their
the Republicans who run the State Senate, all of them white and most of them
from suburban or rural districts, saw decriminalization differently: as an
invitation for young people to use drugs and as a declaration that Albany
was soft on crime... The differing life experiences, and worldviews,
of lawmakers in the two chambers proved too much to overcome in the final
days of this legislative session, and on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo
declared his marijuana proposal dead....
legislative seats are on the ballot in the elections this year, and
Republican senators have pointedly refused to take up several issues that
are avidly sought by Democrats in the Assembly but that might upset
conservatives, including the marijuana bill and a measure to raise the
state’s minimum wage.
Cuomo unveiled his marijuana proposal two weeks ago, promoting it as a way
to end the high number of arrests that result from the stop-and-frisk
practice of the New York Police Department. He immediately won the backing
of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, as well as the department and prosecutors.
With the support of law enforcement, some Democrats and drug-policy
advocates said they did not expect the Republican-controlled Senate to stand
in the way.
have the governor of the state, the speaker of the Assembly, the mayor of
the city, the police commissioner, all five D.A.’s from the city,” said
Harry G. Levine, a sociologist at Queens College who has studied the city’s
marijuana arrest practices. “It seemed like if this many powerful people
said they wanted X, which wasn’t that big a deal, it should be possible to
the collapse of the marijuana proposal illustrated an at-times awkward
reality about the balance of power in Albany: Legislation eagerly sought by
New York City can easily be torpedoed by lawmakers from upstate, even when
the legislation largely affects only residents of the city. The marijuana
measure would have had an impact mostly on city residents because, of the
more than 50,000 low-level marijuana arrests in New York State last year, 9
in 10 occurred in the city, according to state data...
Supporters of the marijuana proposal were not pleased. Assemblywoman Rhoda
S. Jacobs, a Democrat who represents Flatbush, Brooklyn, said Republicans
were blinded by ideology and ignoring the likelihood that their own
constituents used marijuana.... Mr. Cuomo, who has at times been accused
of not paying enough attention to the concerns of black and Latino
lawmakers, won widespread applause for tackling the marijuana issue and, in
doing so, giving more public attention to the growing criticism of the
Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics. But Assemblywoman Inez D.
Barron, a Democrat representing East New York and parts of Canarsie and
Brownsville in Brooklyn, said the governor had not pushed the issue
vigorously enough in the past two weeks. “It’s not a critical issue to
him, but it is for our communities, and we understand it,” Ms. Barron said.
“I believe that he’s playing a game of trying to enhance his political
stature by not pushing the Republicans. He doesn’t want to expend a
political favor by asking them to really come forth and support this bill.”
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo argued that his marijuana bill
was the kind of proposal, like same-sex marriage, that would take time to
persuade lawmakers to support. “Many of the large issues, social issues,
they don’t happen over a period of weeks,” he said. “It takes a period of
months, sometimes a period of years.”
Political Pressure Caused Cuomo's Pot Plan to Go Up in Smoke, By Ailsa
Chang, WNYC, June 19, 2012
Governor Andrew Cuomo says
it's "highly unlikely" that a bill to decriminalize small amounts of
marijuana possession in public view will pass before Albany ends its
legislative session Thursday. Cuomo announced his support of the bill at the
beginning of June, with the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York
City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and all five district attorneys in the
city, as well as top prosecutors from other New York counties. But during a
press conference Tuesday, Cuomo said that Republicans — who must support the
measure for it to pass the state Senate — are under "tremendous" pressure to
oppose the legislation. "The senate got a lot of blow back," Cuomo said.
"Pardon the pun."
Two weeks ago, state Senate
majority leader Dean Skelos suggested to reporters that the sticking point
for senate Republicans was an issue of marijuana quantity. The proposal
would decriminalize public possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana,
which Skelos said would open the door to "being able to just walk around
with 10 joints in each ear."
But supporters of the bill
said Tuesday that the obstacle for Republicans moved to a more political
one: pressure from the State Conservative Party. Chairman Mike Long said the
Conservative Party would be keeping track of any Republican who supported
the measure. "If a Republican votes for decriminalized marijuana," said
Long, "they run the risk of losing our endorsement either this year or in
the future." Long made good on threats last year when he vowed to retaliate
against senate Republicans who voted in favor of legalizing same-sex
marriage. Long said decriminalizing marijuana would encourage illicit drug
use among young people, and he added that Bloomberg's support of the bill is
inconsistent with his other policies."You can't go around campaigning that a
large sugary soda is bad for you, but it's okay to have marijuana," Long
Gabriel Sayegh, the state
director in New York of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group, said he
was surprised that the Conservative Party would be pulling away support from
a bill that had so much support from law enforcement. "This is a new
rupture. I don't recall a time that we've seen this," he said. Cuomo
announced his support of the bill this month, saying the current law was
confusing to police officers. He pointed out marijuana arrests are
disproportionately black and Latino, and many arrests for publicly
displaying pot result when officers direct people to empty their pockets
during stop-and-frisks. Bill supporters say they are committed to passing
the bill during any special session called in Albany before the end of the
year, or next year.
A more limited version of
the bill has been informally proposed by legislators that would have
decriminalized only marijuana that's displayed at the direction of an
officer during a stop and frisk. But Cuomo said he's seeking broader reform
than that. "Sometimes it's better to try to get the full reform because a
partial reform costs you something. It costs you the energy in many ways
that you've developed on the issues," the governor said, "and a partial
reform can suggest to people, 'Well, we've taken care of that. That's done.
Mark it off your list. You don't have to worry anymore.'" Cuomo adds that
he's not confident the senate would have passed a stop-and-frisk "exception"
Asked about how he feels
about the NYPD's stop and frisk tactics, he said, "I'm going to to leave
that up to Commissioner Ray Kelly and the mayor. That's an issue for local
“Why Marijuana Decriminalization Won't Kill NYPD Discrimination” By Natasha
Lennard, Alternet, June 16, 2012
proposal to decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of
marijuana risks ending a number of objections to the NYPD's stop-and-frisk
practices, without properly addressing the racist skew of the policing
tactic and the damage it can wreak on the lives of those it targets (namely
young black and Latino men in primarily poor neighborhoods). More troubling
still, decriminalization as it is currently proposed could lead to even
less transparency and accountability when it comes to NYPD practices.
Across the United States,
marijuana policy reform is gaining momentum on state-level legislative
agendas. In New York, where low-level marijuana arrests constitute one in
every seven arrests made, the proposal to decriminalize public marijuana
could lessen the harm done to the lives of those consistently stopped,
frisked and deemed criminal by the NYPD. When you dig into the details,
however, it seems that decriminalization could be little more than a
Band-Aid over the bullet wound of racist police practices.
Cuomo's proposal responds
to one of the major criticisms leveled against stop and frisks: that the
NYPD quite literally forces individuals to commit criminal offenses relating
to marijuana. Police officers regularly compel the subjects they stop (85
percent of whom are black or Latino) to empty their pockets. In New York, it
is currently a violation, but not a crime, to possess a small amount of
marijuana privately. If the drug is brought into public, however, this
becomes a crime (a misdemeanor). So, when the police instruct subjects to
empty their pockets during stops (or, as has often been reported) illegally
reach into subjects' pockets to pull out small amounts of marijuana, the
subject now faces criminal charges because police action has brought the
drug into public.
As such, the
decriminalization proposal, if passed, would stop the direct creation of
criminals through stop-and-frisks as described above. The plan is to make
the possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana in public a violation (as
in the case of private possession) and no longer a misdemeanor, so no longer
a criminal offense. Police would then issue a summons for the violation, but
the subject would not face arrest, fingerprinting, photographing and the
lifelong burden of criminal charges.
The NYPD made 50,864
low-level marijuana arrests in 2011: 82 percent of the arrestees were black
or Latino. Were decriminalization to go through (which alone involves a
long, difficult political battle), thousands of young black and Latino New
Yorkers stopped by police might at least not face the immediate punishment
of an arrest record for possessing a small amount of pot. This would take a
significant punitive sting out of stop and frisk and its racist bent.
The key thing to understand
about the proposed decriminalization is that it moves low-level marijuana
possession from a misdemeanor to a violation. So, what happens with a
violation? Harry G. Levine, professor of sociology at Queens College CUNY
and long-term researcher into marijuana arrests, points out that violations
are regularly mischaracterized by those with little experience of New York's
"People say, 'Oh, a violation, that's just like a traffic ticket.' It's not
like a traffic ticket," Levine told me in a phone interview. "It's what I'd
call a 'misdemeanor lite.'"
Levine explained the swift
(and common) way in which violations become criminal charges. If an
individual is charged with a violation by a police officer and issued a
consequent summons, the person is required to appear in court on a certain
date and likely pay a fine. (The fine for the noncriminal violation of
marijuana possession as a first-time offense in New York is currently "no
more than $100"). However, if you fail to appear in court on the required
date, or if you show up and wait in what are often hours-long lines, but
have to leave before your name is called (perhaps because of childcare or
work commitments), or if you fail to pay a fine by the required date, then a
court-ordered arrest warrant (a "bench warrant") is issued and entered onto
the NYPD database. Then, if you are stopped by the police again, you will
face arrest and a criminal record.
"The summons system can produce some of the same consequences as the arrest
system," noted Levine. But perhaps most crucially, there is currently no way
of knowing precisely how often summonses turn into criminal charges because
of bench warrants - the data is simply not available.
The New York State Division
of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) collects and makes publicly available
data about criminal arrests in the entire state. However, no such data is
compiled regarding noncriminal violations. Criminal arrest data includes
demographic information, such as the race of the arrestee; no such
information exists for summonses. "The summons system is quite
subterranean," said Levine, noting that for some years he has unsuccessfully
sought data on how many noncriminal violations lead to criminal charges
through bench warrants.
Levine added that without legislative or policy reform to make marijuana
possession summonses traceable, this lack of data will prove a "huge
problem." Given that issuing summonses (essentially writing a ticket) takes
up considerably less time and resources than actually bringing someone to a
precinct for a criminal arrest, police could write thousands more summonses
for marijuana possession, potentially widening the net of those who have to
face the criminal justice system. Stop-and-frisk practices can remain as
discriminatory as ever, with even less data available to prove it.
"There needs to be a
conversation about what decriminalization means," said Levine, noting that
there are growing examples around the country of bad decriminalization with
high fines, which go directly to the city and the police - thus
incentivizing cops to write more summonses. In different states, counties
and cities, police departments handle marijuana arrests in different ways;
across the country, however, with or without decriminalization, racial
discrimination prevails despite government statistics showing that white
young men use marijuana more than any other demographic.
Levine quips all too seriously that "good decrim." would mean that everyone
was treated like most white upper-middle class people with regards to
marijuana ("they don't get arrested, ticketed, or fined"). Which drives home
the perturbing accuracy of Bloomberg's comment on decriminalization and stop
and frisks. Decriminalization might "end some objections," but it won't stop
systematically racist policing.
"New York City Council Passes Resolution, Calls on Albany to Pass
Legislation Ending Racially Biased, Costly, Unlawful Marijuana Possession
Arrests" by Drug Policy Alliance, June 15 2012
Yesterday, the New York City
Council passed Resolution 986-A which calls for an end to racially biased,
costly, unlawful arrests. The resolution, introduced by Council Members
Melissa Mark-Viverito and Oliver Koppell, was co-sponsored by a majority of
Council members and passed by an overwhelming majority during the monthly
Stated meeting. The resolution calls for closing the loophole to clarify the
marijuana possession law in New York. The New York State Legislature
decriminalized personal possession 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.”
More than ninety percent of
marijuana possession arrests come from New York City because of the City’s
aggressive stop-and-frisk policies that have swept up 700,000, mostly young
and black and Latino men in 2011 alone.
“Despite marijuana having been
decriminalized since 1977, tens of thousands of mostly black and Latino
young people are arrested after a police officer asks them to take marijuana
out of their pocket during a stop-and-frisk,” said Council Member Melissa
Mark-Viverito. “By passing this resolution, the City Council is calling on
the Senate to stop playing politics with the lives of our City’s young black
and Latino men and pass this legislation.”
As numerous news articles and
research have demonstrated, the NYPD engages in unlawful practice of
mischarging and arresting people for marijuana possession after an illegal
search; or, the arrest occurs when the person complies with an NYPD
officer’s directive to “empty their pockets.” Many people comply, even
though they’re not legally required to do so. If a person pulls mari¬juana
from their pocket or bag, it is then “open to public view.” The police then
arrest the person for burning or possession in public view. These arrests
needlessly criminalizes young people – especially young people of color –
and harms the relationship between law enforcement and the community.
“This resolution is not just
about decriminalizing marijuana. It’s about raising the bar on how we
achieve accountability, racial equity, and most of all, public safety built
on policies that encourage community engagement and solutions,” said Chino
Hardin, leader trainer at Center for NuLeadership. “It is not just a
resolution but investment in the right direction, and we call on our
legislative leaders to join the growing and diverse community leadership for
safety and justice.”
Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD
Commissioner Ray Kelly, and all five New York City District Attorneys
support legislation in Albany introduced at the request of Governor Cuomo
that clarifies the existing marijuana possession in public view law in order
to prevent unlawful arrests by police officers and to reduce the racial
disparities of those arrested.
“There's no better example of
how the war on drugs has become an excuse to criminalize low-income
communities of color in New York City than the marijuana arrests crusade.
The City Council is showing leadership calling for an to end these racially
biased and costly marijuana arrests,” said Alfredo Carasquillo, a community
organizer with VOCAL-NY. “It's time to start investing in classrooms, human
services and jobs instead of wasting tens of millions of dollars every year
locking up tens of thousands of Black and Latino youth for a minor offense
that was decriminalized 35 years ago.”
The resolution calls on the
New York Senate to act swiftly and pass legislation, "putting Governor
Cuomo's proposal into effect in order to end the practice."
“There are five days left of
the legislative session, and as we know from data, the marijuana arrests
spike in the summer,” said Gabriel Sayegh, state director the Drug Policy
Alliance’s New York office. “If the legislature doesn’t act this year,
thousands more young people of color will be unlawfully arrested, saddled
with a criminal record, and face significant barriers to overcome for life,
while their white counterparts will be largely left alone. That's shameful.
The time for reform is now."
"New Yorkers Are Systematically Screwed By 'Public View' Marijuana Law.
These Are Their Stories" By James King, Village Voice, June 13, 2012
In an effort to persuade New
York lawmakers to support Governor Andrew Cuomo's push to decriminalize
"public view" marijuana arrests, a drug policy group has started a video
campaign to illustrate how people are getting screwed by a loophole in the
Marijuana Reform Act, which (supposedly) decriminalized weed in the Empire
State in 1979.
As it stands, if you're busted
with weed in private, you've committed a violation that's about as serious a
crime as a parking ticket. However, if you're caught with weed in public,
it's a misdemeanor. The loophole has led to the disproportionate arrests of
young minorities (of the roughly 50,000 people arrested each year in New
York for low-level marijuana offenses, 87 percent are black or Hispanic).
The Drug Policy Alliance has
put together a 15-part series of interviews with people explaining how they
were screwed by the "public view" portion of New York's marijuana law.
DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE INTERVIEWS ARE ON YOUTUBE HERE:
Cuomo’s Pitch: Yes, We Cannabis: Weeding Out The Worst Of Stop-And-Frisk"
column by Bill Hammond, New York Daily News, June 5, 2012
While Nanny Bloomberg harshes
our sugar buzz, cool-guy Gov. Cuomo is telling the cops to go easy on
marijuana. Excellent move, Dude.
Kidding aside, Cuomo’s plan to
decriminalize public possession of small amounts of pot is the opposite of
dopey. It’s smart policy and smart politics at the same time.
The fact that the NYPD arrests
more than 50,000 people a year for doing something that practically everyone
under the age of 60 has at least tried — and knows full well to be no more
dangerous than alcohol, and probably less so — is beyond ridiculous.
Thousands of young people are
being handcuffed, fingerprinted, held behind bars and given permanent
criminal records for an activity also perpetrated by at least four U.S.
Presidents, not to mention infamous hippies Newt Gingrich and Clarence
Cuomo himself has acknowledged
smoking marijuana “in my youth.” When asked during his first mayoral
campaign if he had tried pot, Bloomberg said: “You bet I did. And I enjoyed
According to a new biography
of President Obama by David Maraniss, the future leader of the free world
and his friends made a point of closing the car windows when they toked up,
so they could tilt their heads back and take “roof hits” when the joint was
Yet none of these lawbreakers was caught. So none got turned down for a job
or forfeited a student loan or, most tragically of all, lost custody of
their children — all of which can and do happen to the mostly young, mostly
black and brown New Yorkers swept up in the city’s modern-day reefer
Compounding the injustice is the fact that New York supposedly
decriminalized marijuana 35 years ago — when the Legislature downgraded
private possession of up to 25 grams, or 7/8 of an ounce, to a mere
violation, the equivalent of a traffic ticket.
Arresting people over pot “needlessly scars thousands of lives and wastes
millions of dollars in law enforcement resources, while detracting from the
prosecution of serious crime,” lawmakers declared at the time.
But that wise policy became
collateral damage in the NYPD’s successful war for safe streets, as cops
looked for any valid reason to confront and cuff people they suspected of
crimes. Pot arrests went through the roof during the Giuliani years and
stayed sky-high under Bloomberg — who has presided over more than 400,000
Clearly, in this case, the
NYPD has taken numbers-driven enforcement too far.
Theoretically, the police are nabbing most of these people for possessing or
smoking the dope in full public view, which is still a class B misdemeanor.
In many, if not most, cases, however, the pot was harmlessly hidden from
view until the owner was confronted during a stop-and-frisk — and an officer
either searched the suspect or told him to empty his pockets.
"The Evolution of Cuomo’s Push to Lower Pot Arrests" By Ailsa Chang, WNYC
News, June 05, 2012 (Also 5 minute radio news from NPR and
broadcast on All Things Considered)
Under current law in New York,
possessing a small amount of marijuana is only a crime if it's in public
view. On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo put his political muscle behind a
bill that would make that a violation, not a crime ― meaning you only get a
ticket and pay a fine. Cuomo's sudden announcement took many by surprise,
but it was a decision that had been unfolding for months. Cuomo made the
announcement backed by his own show of force — all five District Attorneys
in New York City signed on, as did Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police
Commissioner Ray Kelly, who was in Albany for the announcement.
An earlier version of this
bill was actually introduced by two lawmakers last year, a couple weeks
after a WNYC investigation suggested police were making unlawful marijuana
arrests in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods....
investigation found the problem wasn't that marijuana was
against the law — it was how the police were allegedly carrying out the law.
More than a dozen men from the most heavily policed precincts told WNYC they
were arrested for displaying marijuana in public view when their marijuana
was actually hidden in their clothes. They claimed during a stop and frisk,
police either ordered them to empty their pockets or pulled the marijuana
out themselves before arresting them. Cuomo touched on the issue at
Monday’s announcement. “If you possess marijuana privately it’s a violation,
if you show it in public it’s a crime,” Cuomo said. “It’s incongruous, it’s
inconsistent the way it’s been enforced.”
Officer reaches into a pocket
during a frisk in Brooklyn
Five months after WNYC’s
investigation aired, Commissioner Kelly issued an internal order to the
entire police department saying those kinds of arrests were not allowed
under existing law. In the months that followed Kelly’s order, marijuana
arrests declined, but not substantially — about 14 percent, according to
state data. But the commissioner’s directive was a gift to Assemblyman
Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn. He had already introduced his bill that would
decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana in public view. “The
directive from Commissioner Kelly gave us the opportunity to make a strong
argument to the Governor that there is recognition of the flawed nature of
these arrests by the police department itself,” Jeffries said at the time.
Jeffries, along with
Republican state Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, continued pushing Cuomo
to back their marijuana bill. They got a glimmer of hope in March.
Cuomo helped carve out an
exception to a new law: people convicted for the first time of possessing
small amounts of marijuana would not be included in the state's expanded DNA
database. Sayegh said it was a huge clue to everyone lobbying for fewer
marijuana arrests. “That's a real clear moment, a definable moment where we
know that the Cuomo administration knows this thing is wrong,” he said. The
momentum against unlawful marijuana arrests grew. City Council Speaker
Christine Quinn, who's considered a likely candidate for mayor, planned to
pass a resolution next week denouncing unlawful marijuana arrests and urging
Albany to pass the marijuana bill.
Lobbyists tell WNYC that phone
calls from the governor's office to legislators, law enforcement officials
and advocates reached a fever pitch last Thursday, and those calls continued
through the weekend.
Cuomo's abrupt announcement
about the marijuana bill on Monday was hailed by criminal justice experts.
Many Albany observers expect the bill to pass. It will likely sail through
the Democratic-controlled Assembly, and if Republican Senate Majority Leader
Dean Skelos allows the bill to the floor for a Senate vote, Cuomo only needs
two GOP votes. Grisanti, a Republican, is locked in since he was one of the
bill’s original sponsors.
the bill passes, Harry Levine, a Queens College sociologist, offered a
warning: There may be fewer marijuana arrests, but he says we'll probably
see tens of thousands more summonses issued for marijuana possession in the
same precincts where people were previously getting arrested.
“So it will be young blacks and Latinos ― mostly men ― who are being given
the summonses, just as it is mostly ― 87 percent ― of those who are being
arrested now,” he predicted.
Levine says that racial disparity is no small deal, even if you're talking
about summonses. Even though studies show young whites smoke pot more, he
notes, mostly young blacks and Latinos would be paying the hefty fines for
marijuana in this city — about $100 per ticket. And if they don't show up
in court on the correct day to pay those fines, they could still be
Altering a Law the Police Use Prolifically,
By Jim Dwyer, New York Times, June 5, 2012
This week, the governor and
the speaker of the Assembly said they supported a change in the law so that
publicly possessing small quantities of pot would no longer be a
misdemeanor. “This is primarily a young-person problem, about 60 percent,”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday. “And primarily, overwhelmingly, a
problem for the black and brown community, 94 percent of the convictions.”
In a startling turnaround,
both Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said that they
supported the change in the law.
Under Mr. Bloomberg and
Commissioner Kelly, no other prohibition has been so vigorously enforced.
About 400,000 people have been arrested over the last 10 years for breaking
New York State Penal Law 221.10, which makes it a misdemeanor to openly
possess or burn less than an ounce of pot.
For the last four years, I
have asked the mayor’s office and the police commissioner why there has been
an explosion of marijuana arrests among black and Latinos. Officials in
those offices consistently, and ardently, defended the arrests as vital to
In 2009, John Feinblatt, a
mayoral aide, said, “This continued focus on low-level offending has been
part of the city’s effective crime-reduction strategy, which has resulted in
a 35 percent decrease in crime since 2001.”
Last year, another aide, Frank
Barry, said, “Marijuana arrests can be an effective tool for suppressing the
expansion of street-level drug markets and the corresponding violence.”
At the state level, Mr. Cuomo
won passage of legislation to expand collection of DNA to include people
charged with misdemeanors. He agreed, in exchange for the support of
Democrats in the Assembly, to exempt people facing a first arrest in minor
He also privately promised to
fix a few lines in the laws governing marijuana possession, the changes he
proposed this week. Currently, having a small quantity of pot is not a crime
if it is not visible; it is merely a violation, like a traffic summons.
However, if the pot is openly displayed, it is a misdemeanor. So, people
ordered to turn out their pockets by a police officer are displaying
marijuana, a misdemeanor.
Those misdemeanor charges, Mr.
Cuomo said, were an “aggravated complication” of searches conducted in New
York City. Last year, about 700,000 people were stopped, questioned, and in
many cases, searched; most of those people were black and Latino.
Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly
are under pressure over that practice, noted Donna Lieberman, the executive
director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. A federal judge ruled last
month that thousands of searches did not appear to be constitutional. The
Legal Aid Society plans to sue the city over the marijuana arrests, said
Steven Banks, the attorney in chief for the society, which provides many of
the defense lawyers in New York’s criminal courts. The main police union,
the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has said there are quotas for the
number of stops, although the Police Department calls them performance
Hakeem Jeffries, an
assemblyman from Brooklyn, had urged the reforms proposed this week, which
need the support of the State Senate to become law. “The possession of
small quantities of marijuana is either a crime, or it’s not,” Mr. Jeffries
said. “It cannot be criminal behavior for one group of people and socially
acceptable behavior for another group of people, where the dividing line is
"No Crime, Real Punishment" New York Times Editorial, June 4, 2012
New York State decriminalized
the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the late 1970s. But last
year, in New York City, 50,000 people — the majority of them, young
African-American or Hispanic men — were still arrested for possession
because of overzealous policing and a weakness in the law.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed
to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view
— a sensible step that should decrease the number of those arrests and
lessen the damage to those young lives. Now Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has
endorsed the governor’s proposal, must rein in the city’s runaway
stop-and-frisk program that is also disproportionately stopping young black
and Hispanic New Yorkers.
In 1977, hoping to relieve
court congestion and allow prosecutors to focus on more serious crime, the
State Legislature made possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana a
violation — something akin to a traffic ticket — punishable by a $100 fine
for the first offense. Possession in public view was made a misdemeanor
punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.
Marijuana arrests initially
declined, but they exploded from less than 1,000 in 1990 to 50,000 last
year. Of the nearly 12,000 16-to-19-year-olds arrested in 2011, nearly half
had never been arrested before; 94 percent had no prior convictions.
Public defenders have repeatedly charged that the police are entrapping
young people, stopping them for no cause and then requiring them to empty
their pockets to bring their marijuana into public view. And former police
officers now speak openly of being pressured to drive up their arrest
The Legislature should take up Mr. Cuomo’s proposal and pass it swiftly.
People with minor convictions can be denied public housing and federal
student aid and written off by prospective employers. The numbers for the
stop-and-frisk program are even more disturbing — 700,000 last year, about
85 percent of those involving blacks and Hispanics, who make up about half
the city’s population.
Decriminalizing public possession of small amounts of marijuana will address
only part of that problem. For the sake of fairness and public safety, the
stop-and-frisk program, which breeds fear and distrust of the police in
minority neighborhoods, must be reformed.
"NY Gov. Cuomo Proposes Reducing Marijuana Penalty" Associated Press and
Washington Post, June 4, 2012
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday
proposed cutting the penalty for public possession of a small amount of
marijuana, a change in state law that would defuse some criticism of the New
York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy in minority communities.
With three weeks remaining in
the legislative session, Cuomo said his bill to reduce the criminal
misdemeanor to a violation with a fine up to $100 would save thousands of
New Yorkers, disproportionately black and Hispanic youths, from unnecessary
arrests and criminal charges.
“There’s a blatant
inconsistency. If you possess marijuana privately, it’s a violation. If you
show it in public, it’s a crime,” Cuomo said. “It’s incongruous. It’s
inconsistent the way it’s been enforced. There have been additional
complications in relation to the stop-and-frisk policy where there’s claims
young people could have a small amount of marijuana in their pocket, where
they’re stopped and frisked. The police officer says, ‘Turn out your
pockets.’ The marijuana is now in public view. It just went from a violation
to a crime.”
New York City prosecutors and
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, whose offices handled almost 50,000 such
criminal cases last year, endorsed the Democratic governor’s plan. Mayor
Michael Bloomberg said the bill largely mirrors the city police directive
issued last year for officers to issue violations, not misdemeanors, “for
small amounts of marijuana that come into open view during a search.”
Manhattan District Attorney
Cyrus Vance said it will help them redirect limited resources to serious
crime, and key Assembly Democrats expressed support. Some opposition is
expected in the state Senate’s Republican majority, where a spokesman said
they will review the measure once Cuomo submits it.
Possession of less than 25
grams was reduced in state law to a violation in 1977, subject to a ticket
and fine. If the pot is burning or in public view, it rises to a misdemeanor
that leads to an arrest. Cuomo’s proposal differs from pending Assembly and
Senate bills because it leaves public pot smoking as a criminal misdemeanor.
Cuomo acknowledged the
existing approach disproportionately affects minority youths, with 94
percent of arrests in New York City, more than half of those arrested
younger than 25 and 82 percent either black or Hispanic.
Cuomo Wants to Decriminalize 'Public Display' of Marijuana, by Jacob Sullum,
Reason.com, June 4, 2012
Responding to the bogus pot
busts associated with the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program, New York Gov.
Andrew Cuomo is urging the state legislature to decriminalize the "public
display" of marijuana. Although possessing up to 25 grams (nearly an ounce)
of marijuana has been a citable offense similar to a traffic violation in
New York since 1977, having marijuana "burning or open to public view"
remains a Class B misdemeanor, justifying an arrest. Research by Queens
College sociologist Harry Levine indicates that New York City police
commonly convert the former offense into the latter by instructing people
they stop to remove any contraband they have from their pockets or bags (or
by removing it themselves in the course of a pat-down ostensibly aimed at
discovering weapons). “Now it’s in public view,” Levine explains to The New
York Times. “If you go by the police reports, all around New York City,
there are people standing around with their palms outstretched with a bit of
marijuana in them."
A spokesman for Cuomo says
"this proposal will bring long overdue consistency and fairness to New York
State’s Penal Law and save thousands of New Yorkers, particularly minority
youth, from the unnecessary and life-altering trauma of a criminal arrest
and, in some cases, prosecution." He adds that it would avoid "countless
man-hours wasted" on arrests and prosecutions "for what is clearly only a
minor offense." Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil
Liberties Union, notes that pot arrests impose a lasting burden even when
the charges ultimately are dropped or dismissed (as usually happens): "For
individuals who have any kind of a record, even a minuscule one, the
obstacles are enormous to employment and to education. When it’s really a
huge number of kids in the community who go through this, and all have the
same story, the impact is just devastating."
The bogus busts are especially outrageous because the stops that precede
them, which supposedly are justified by "reasonable suspicion" of recent,
ongoing, or imminent criminal activity, may be illegal as well.
reaches into a man's pocket on Broadway in Harlem. Photo by Jazz Hayden
"Plan to Reduce Pot Arrests" by Sean Gardiner, Wall Street Journal, June 4,
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and
New York City law-enforcement officials on Monday threw their support behind
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's effort to decriminalize the possession of small amounts
of marijuana in public view—a move proponents said would reduce the number
of young minority men arrested.
Mr. Cuomo's proposal would
still allow people to be arrested if they are smoking marijuana in public
but not for simply displaying less than 25 grams. Under current law,
possessing 25 grams or less—about seven-eighths of an ounce—is a violation
for which police can write a summons and issue a $100 fine for first-time
offenders, while displaying the same amount publicly can result in an arrest
and a misdemeanor charge.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said at
an Albany news conference Monday that the proposal "is about creating
fairness and consistency in our laws since there is a blatant inconsistency
in the way we deal with small amounts of marijuana."
The NYPD made 50,668 arrests
on low-level marijuana charges in 2011, the highest number since the
administration of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Critics charge that more than
80% of those arrested for the charge of possession of marijuana in the fifth
degree have been black and Latino, and that many were tricked into
displaying their drugs publicly by police officers ordering them to empty
their pockets during stops....
Mr. Cuomo said the
stop-and-frisk policy "aggravates the situation" with low-level pot arrests.
However, he stopped short of calling for the tactic's end.
Donna Lieberman, executive
director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said Mr. Cuomo's proposal
would prevent many unwarranted arrests but she said the number of such
police stops—last year they topped 685,000—would be reduced only if there is
a "fundamental overhaul in police training and practices coming from the
top." Critics of stop-and-frisk say it has strained relations between police
and minority communities, where the tactic is primarily used.
Further decriminalization of
marijuana would help young minority men avoid getting early arrest records.
"These arrests have significant consequences that can be damaging and
life-altering," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies, the Brooklyn Democrat who
sponsored the bill. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said
prosecuting such cases is a "drain on our office's resources." He said the
new law would "allow us to redirect significant resources to the most
serious criminals and crime problems."
Harry Levine, a Queens College
professor who wrote a study on the city's low-level marijuana arrests, said
he fears the proposal could allow police officers to save time on processing
low-level marijuana arrests, allowing them to increase the number of
violations issued."The 50,000 [marijuana] arrests could easily turn into
100,000 summonses with mandatory court appearances and everything else," he
said. He said the summonses, which can have serious legal ramifications,
shouldn't be equated to traffic tickets: "I'd say it is more like
"Cuomo Seeks Cut in Frisk Arrests" By Thomas Kaplan, New York Times, June
Wading into the debate over
stop-and-frisk police tactics, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to ask legislators
on Monday for a change in New York State law that would drastically reduce
the number of people who could be arrested for marijuana possession as a
result of police stops. The governor will call for the decriminalization of
possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view, administration
officials said. Advocates of such a change say the offense has ensnared tens
of thousands of young black and Latino men who are stopped by the New York
City police for other reasons but after being instructed to empty their
pockets, find themselves charged with a crime.
Reducing the impact of the
Bloomberg administration’s stop-and-frisk policy has been a top priority of
lawmakers from minority neighborhoods, who have urged Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat,
to pay more attention to the needs of their communities. The lawmakers argue
that young men found with small amounts of marijuana are being needlessly
funneled into the criminal justice system and have difficulty finding jobs
as a result....
“For individuals who have any
kind of a record, even a minuscule one, the obstacles are enormous to
employment and to education,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director
of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “When it’s really a huge number of
kids in the community who go through this, and all have the same story, the
impact is just devastating.”
The police in New York City
made 50,684 arrests last year for possession of a small amount of marijuana,
more than for any other offense, according to an analysis of state data by
Harry G. Levine, a sociologist at Queens College. The arrests continued —
one in seven arrests made in the city was for low-level marijuana possession
— even as Commissioner Kelly issued his directive.
Mr. Bloomberg has opposed
ending arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. His
administration has argued that the arrests serve to reduce more serious
crime by deterring drug dealing and the violence that can accompany the drug
trade. A spokesman for the mayor declined to comment Sunday.
Mr. Cuomo plans to announce
his support for the change at a news conference at the Capitol. While his
push comes late in the year’s legislative session, which is scheduled to end
June 21, the governor has been successful in his first 17 months in office
at focusing attention on a limited number of legislative priorities and
persuading lawmakers to address them quickly.
“This proposal will bring long
overdue consistency and fairness to New York State’s Penal Law and save
thousands of New Yorkers, particularly minority youth, from the unnecessary
and life-altering trauma of a criminal arrest and, in some cases,
prosecution,” an administration official said in an e-mail.
It would also save law
enforcement “countless man-hours wasted” on arrests and prosecutions “for
what is clearly only a minor offense,” the official added.
In New York, the Legislature
in 1977 reduced the penalty for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana
to a violation, which carries a maximum fine of $100 for first-time
offenders. But it remains a misdemeanor if the marijuana is in public view
or is being smoked in public, and lawmakers and drug-reform advocates
have argued that the misdemeanor charge is often unfairly applied to
suspects who did not have marijuana in public view until the police stopped
them and told them to empty their pockets.
“Now it’s in public view,”
Professor Levine said. “If you go by the police reports, all around New York
City, there are people standing around with their palms outstretched with a
bit of marijuana in them.”
From 2002 to 2011, New York
City recorded 400,000 low-level marijuana arrests, according to his
analysis. That represented more arrests than under Mr. Bloomberg’s three
predecessors put together — a period of 24 years. Most of those arrested
have been young black and Hispanic men, and most had no prior criminal
Mr. Cuomo’s action comes after
a number of state legislators and City Council members, many of them
representing neighborhoods with large minority populations, have sought ways
to force change at the Police Department.
"The Whole System Relies on These Arrests": The
NYPD's Racist Marijuana Arrest Crusade And Its National Implications, By
Alexander Zaitchik, Alternet and American Independent News Network, May 15,
morning, several sheets of paper are posted to the walls outside the
arraignment rooms of New York City’s Borough Courts. They list the names of
the accused scheduled to appear before the judge and the legal codes of
their offenses. On most days and across the city’s five boroughs, these
lists include multiple names next to the numbers 221.10. This is the legal
code for the misdemeanor charge of possessing small amounts of marijuana
“open to public view,” meaning the public display or public smoking of pot.
In 2010, more than 50,000 New Yorkers were arrested for violating 221.10.
The number represented 15 percent of all arrests made by the NYPD and
allowed the city to keep its crown of Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World.
there is a credible challenger for the dubious honor. The high number of
221.10 arrests puts New York in a league of its own and has become a
lightning rod in the national debate over race and the war on drugs. New
York’s marijuana arrests, says a growing chorus of critics, are a prime
example of how the nation’s drug laws disproportionately impact black and
York’s marijuana arrests, says a growing chorus of critics, are a prime
example of how the nation’s drug laws disproportionately impact black and
decreasingly a matter of accusation and anecdote. Hard data are emerging
that confirm what marijuana reform advocates and public defenders have long
maintained: That the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy in high-crime
neighborhoods — sold to the public as a way to find illegal guns and reduce
violent crime — has instead resulted in racially uneven drug law enforcement
practices that seem to violate the spirit and the letter of New York law as
well as the United States Constitution.
is emblematic of a national problem. Extreme racial skews are also reflected
in the marijuana arrest statistics of major cities across the country, from
Los Angeles to Chicago to the District of Columbia.
has emerged as America’s marijuana arrest capital only in the last 15 years.
For nearly two decades after New York’s “public view” law was passed, the
law was enforced more or less as intended. This changed with the mayoral
election of Rudolph Giuliani in 1994. The former U.S. Attorney’s brain trust
included advisors connected to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think
tank whose fellows James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in the early 1980s
developed the “broken windows” theory of policing and crime reduction.
Backers of the theory posited that police should increase foot patrols in
high-crime neighborhoods and focus on misdemeanors, as well as employ
pre-emptive tactics such as stop-and-frisks instead of waiting for reported
crime. The NYPD began stopping people and demanding they empty their
pockets, or forcibly doing it for them. They found some guns, but many more
small bags of marijuana that had not been in plain view before the search,
and thus should not have been the basis for arrest. The number of pot
arrests began a historic decade-long climb.
is under the supposedly “centrist” administration of Michael Bloomberg that
the number of arrests has once again spiked. Critics allege that under
Bloomberg and Giuliani-holdover police chief Ray Kelly, stop-and-frisk
policies were maintained as a shortcut for meeting unofficial quotas, which
occasionally surface in scandal. Because it has become so ingrained in
police practice since the mid-1990s, attempts to end or curb the
controversial policy must contend with the full weight of institutional and
professional inertia within the NYPD.
aggressive policing is driven by Departmental requirements,” says Steve
Wasserman, a veteran litigation attorney with the Legal Aid Society.
“Officers are required to undertake and document enforcement activities on
each tour of duty to keep their careers on track.” The precincts in turn use
the numbers to meet their own requirements.
whole system relies on these arrests, which have been the most common arrest
for NYPD for years,” says Jesse Levine. “It’s built into the system. Despite
what [Police Chief] Ray Kelly may want us to believe, it’s not a superficial
aspect of police policy, but their bread and butter up and down the chain.”
Can't Get Arrested in NYC: Police Refuse to
Arrest White Protesters at Police Headquarters," by Jesse Levine, Huffington
Post, May 14, 2012
Nine white activists
blocked the entrance of the NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza, on
Saturday, May 12, drawing attention to the city's ever-increasing,
racially-skewed marijuana possession arrests. After plopping themselves down
to block the entrance, with banners unfurled and 200 supporters chanting,
"No Justice, No Peace," six, young, uniformed officers stood stony faced,
unmoved, and made no arrests.
Before the act of civil
disobedience, City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Melissa Mark-Viverito,
and Letitia James spoke to the crowd about the harm and outrage caused by
stop and frisks, marijuana possession arrests, and other police practices in
Speakers said the NYPD
divides New York into a white city and a black and Latino city -- with much
more aggressive policing for blacks and Latinos. City Council members and
other speakers called for an end to racist police practices and demanded
more accountability and community control over the NYPD.
One protestor, Sam Haar, a
white musician living in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said, "I see police stopping
and searching young people of color in my neighborhood, but I never see
police stopping young white people."
New studies from the New
York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) confirm these observations and show
widespread patterns of discrimination in the use of stop and frisks. The
NYCLU found that the NYPD's own data show that the NYPD make more stops and
frisks of young black men than there are young black men living in New York
City. Stephen Colbert reported this and concluded that the NYPD was
arresting black space invaders....
Although young whites use
marijuana at higher rates than young blacks and Latinos, police arrest
blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the rate of whites, and
Latinos at four times the rate of whites. In other words, blacks and Latinos
are more likely to be arrested by the NYPD for an offense they are less
likely to commit.
Seven months ago the NYPD
arrested Cornell West, the African-American professor from Princeton, for
blocking the entrance to a New York police station to protest the city's
stop and frisks. Inspired by Cornell West's action, white activists at the
rally in front of police headquarters sat down and blocked the entrance to
One Police Plaza, expecting to get arrested for their civil disobedience.
As the crowd began to
understand that the police would not arrest these white demonstrators,
sitting down in solidarity with black arrestees, some people started to
yell, "What do white people have to do to get arrested in this city!"
"Two Cities" protest and rally about marijuana arrests and stop and frisks
at One Police Plaza, May 2012
"Tale of Two Cities: NYPD's Racist Arrests Create
Class War in New York" By Kristen Gwynne, AlterNet, May 13, 2012
While privately possessing
pot has been decriminalized for 35 years in New York, marijuana “in public
view” -- burning or held visibly -- is an arrestable, finger-printable
crime. What’s worse is that investigations by various news sources and
academics alike have revealed that many of these kids deserve a much lesser
charge. During stop-and-frisks, researchers found, police often reach their
hands into the pockets or bags of suspects. Sometimes they find marijuana,
and while the charge should be a decriminalized possession, police charge
suspects with the more serious offense of marijuana “in public view,” even
though police had to search them to find it. Stop-and-frisk has increased by
600 percent since Bloomberg’s first year in office.
inadvertently admitted that police were making illegal marijuana arrests
this fall, when he sent an internal memo to officers telling them to follow
the law, and only arrest people for marijuana “in public view” if officers
did not engage in action to put it there. But Kelly’s memo resulted in
little change. Marijuana arrests dropped only 13 percent, and 2011 still saw
more marijuana arrests than 2010. Last year, in fact, held the record for
New York City’s second highest marijuana arrests in history. The pot arrest
crusade cost New Yorkers an astounding $75 million.
City Councilwoman Melissa
Mark-Viverito said that, despite Kelly’s internal order,
“Unfortunately...When it comes to stop-and-frisks, of which marijuana
arrests are a subset, we know that those numbers continue to rise.” She
said she is“deeply concerned” with the racial division in New York City
policing, and that “We are here to express our outrage, not only as elected
officials, but as constituents -- a community disproportionately affected by
these racist policies”....
Bloomberg defends the
stop-and-frisk tactic as a life-saving tool to prevent gun crimes. But
critics point out that less than 2 percent of stop-and-frisks actually turn
up guns, and say the consequences are not worth the so-called benefits.
“Safety should not come at the expense of our constitutional rights,” said
City Councilwoman Letitia James, “You should not designate young African
Americans and Latinos ‘suspects.’” James said the NYPD has essentially
declared a class war.
“We can no longer accept
the price we are paying for a racially biased policing system,” said
Kassandra Frederique, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We
can no longer allow our tax dollars to be used to criminalize young people
of color -- there are better ways to teach our young people to not use
marijuana. Today we are demanding that our elected officials fight for a
united New York. Telling public officials that their silence speaks volumes
and so do our votes. Let’s all work towards one New York where we are all
treated with respect.”
Harry Levine, a Queens
sociologist responsible for much of the data on racist policing, told
AlterNet, “Roughly half of all stops result in frisks, and most of them
require a full search,” adding that “The most shocking thing is how
routinely police put their hands in people’s pockets -- the amount of
blatantly unconstitutional, illegal searches of people’s clothing and
Often, in New York,
officers’ encounters with black and Latino communities go beyond street
stops and into homes. Under Operation Clean Halls, officers are permitted to
enter residential buildings, and question or arrest (often for bogus
trespassing charges) whomever they want. What’s more, as Levine said at the
rally, black and Latino youths are also much more likely to be arrested and
ticketed for misdemeanor crimes like disorderly conduct and trespassing....
Activists said they will
use the summer, and the months between now and elections in November, to
draw attention to their case and rally New Yorkers to vote for a united New
York. A silent march, inspired by the NAACP’s 1917 protest of young, brown
and black people murdered in St. Louis, is planned for this Father’s Day,
June 17. Chino Hardin, an organizer for Institute for Juvenile Justice
Reform and Alternatives, warned legislators, “If you want us to be there in
November, be there for us in June.”
Kelly and Bloomberg -- not
individual police officers, organizers said -- are responsible for creating
a New York in which skin color, gender, age, and class guarantee incredibly
different realities. They call for the ousting of Kelly and Bloomberg, and
for the election of New York City legislators willing to stand up against
the policies that white civil disobedients called “the new Jim Crow.”
"Weed Fans: Mike Bloomberg's Marijuana Enforcement
Practices Are Racist -- Let's Protest" By James King, The Village Voice,
May 9 2012
Officials from the Drug Policy Alliance say the allegedly racist practices
of selective enforcement has created a "Tale of Two Cities" -- where white
people get away scot free when caught with weed and black people are rounded
up and thrown in jail.
"One New York City is for
white people, where marijuana possession was decriminalized in 1977, people
are seldom stopped and frisked, and mothers do not fear that their teenagers
will be rounded up by the police," the group says. "The other New York City
is for people of color, where hundreds of thousands of people are stopped
even though most were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, tens of thousands
are illegally searched, falsely charged, arrested and incarcerated for
marijuana possession (even though it's not a crime in New York), and mothers
are afraid that the police may unlawfully arrest their young people"....
Advocates say minorities
are jailed at a much higher rate than white people who get busted with weed,
which has much to do with illegal searches causing people to reveal their
weed in public, thus committing a misdemeanor. The DPA cites a recent New
York Times editorial claiming that of the roughly 50,000 people arrested
each year in New York for low-level marijuana offenses, 87 percent are black
In the last five years
under the Bloomberg regime, the group says the NYPD made more marijuana
arrests than in the twenty-four years under mayors Giuliani, Dinkins and
Koch combined. Again, despite marijuana being decriminalized in New York for
more than 30 years.
The group says low-level
marijuana arrests make up 15-percent of the total arrests made in the five
boroughs, which makes marijuana possession the "number one offense" in New
York. And those arrests -- and the clogging of the court system they create
-- costs New York City $75 million a year.
NYC August. Photo: Ken Stein @ flickr
Human Cost of Zero Tolerance" by Brent Staples, New York Times Editorial,
April 18, 2012
There is no
proof that the zero-tolerance policing adopted by New York and other cities
in the 1990’s had anything to do with the decline in violent crime across
the nation. Crime also dropped in jurisdictions that did not use the
people have been arrested under the policy for minor violations, like
possession of small amounts of marijuana. And one thing is beyond dispute:
this arrest-first policy has filled the courts to bursting with first-time,
minor offenders who do not belong there and wreaked havoc with people’s
lives. Even when cases are dismissed, people can be shadowed for years by
error-ridden criminal records.
toll is evident in New York City, where last year 50,000 people — one every
10 minutes — were arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The
city downplays the significance, saying these cases are typically dismissed
and the record sealed if the person stays out of trouble for a year. But
getting tangled in the court system is harrowing. And the record-keeping can
be unreliable and far more porous than the city suggests.
by the Legal Action Center, which assists 2,500 people with criminal records
each year, has found that nearly half of its clients’ rap sheets have
errors. Defense lawyers say that too often the courts and police fail to
report to the state about dismissals and other outcomes favorable to
“sealed” records, background-screening companies working for private
employers can harvest data at the time of an arrest and there is no
guarantee that they will update to reflect dismissals — or expunge the
information when records are sealed by the courts. While it is illegal to
exclude people from jobs based solely on arrest or convictions, unless there
is a compelling business reason for doing so, many employers quickly write
off applicants who are flagged in these databases.
New York City
drove up its marijuana arrests — from just under 1,500 in 1980 to more than
50,000 a year today — despite the fact that the State Legislature in 1977
decriminalized possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, making it a
violation, roughly akin to a traffic ticket. The problem is that the
Legislature made public display of any amount of marijuana a misdemeanor,
which can lead to arrest, jail and a record that follows the person for
years. And New York’s police have been repeatedly accused of arresting
people for possession after forcing them to show “in public” the small
amounts they had. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly tacitly admitted this
practice last year, directing officers to make an arrest only when the drug
really was in view.
the fact that 87 percent of those arrested are black or Hispanic suggests
that the police are deliberately singling out minority citizens for arrests
that push some of them permanently to the very margins of society.
even without a conviction, can swiftly unleash disastrous personal
consequences. Consider the 2011 case of a 26-year-old single mother from
Brooklyn whose lawyers say she was arrested after the police forced her to
reveal a small packet of marijuana hidden in her purse. The judge said the
charges would be dismissed if she stayed out of trouble for a year. A week
later, the woman had been fired from her job as a janitor with the New York
City Housing Authority. She has not been rehired.
Housing Authority convenes a termination hearing when a tenant is arrested.
The authority says no one is evicted for low-level marijuana arrests “in and
of themselves.” But Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid
Society, which represents 30,000 people in minor marijuana arrests a year,
says these cases often end with the leaseholder ejecting the person arrested
— perhaps a son or grandson — to avoid eviction. People convicted of some
misdemeanors cannot apply for public housing for three years; those
convicted of violations are ineligible for two years.
have faced neglect accusations in family court after marijuana arrests, even
if they are not ultimately charged with any crime. In a case described in
The Times, a woman’s son and niece were removed from her home by child
welfare workers after police found about a third of an ounce of marijuana —
below the threshold for a misdemeanor — in a boyfriend’s backpack in her
Bronx apartment. The district attorney declined to prosecute, but the
children spent time in foster care, and her niece was not returned for over
City’s overly zealous marijuana arrests, coupled with the unreliability and
porousness of record-keeping, damage the lives of tens of thousands of
people a year. The Legislature needs to fix this. It must drop the
public-display distinction for marijuana, which invites far too many abuses.
It should also press law enforcement officials and the court system to make
sure that criminal records are more accurate to start with and that people
who are victimized by errors have a plausible way of getting them corrected.
government agencies also have a responsibility here. They must not rush to
their own judgment about minor offenders.
Bloomberg needs to recognize that zero-tolerance policing is not the panacea
his Police Department seems to think it is. The police need to spend more
time tracking down serious crime and less on minor offenses. There is
nothing minor about a record that can follow people for the rest of their
Making Criminals Out of Young People" by Edward Koch, April 26, 2012
Edward Koch was the 105th mayor of New York City for three terms, from 1978
to 1989. He previously served for nine years as a congressman.
In 1977 in New York,
personal possession and use of marijuana were decriminalized. So why were
525,000 people arrested for such possession and use since then?
In 1977, I was the
principal congressional sponsor in the House of Representatives of
legislation that created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug
Abuse. The commission examined the aspects of decriminalization and
legalization of marijuana. The commission which became known as the Shafer
Commission recommended decriminalization for personal use and possession of
marijuana in a limited amount.
Eight or nine states, New
York being one of them, accepted the report and according to The New York
Times in its editorial of April 2, “Under the 1977 law, possession of 25
grams or less of marijuana is a violation, subject to a $100 fine for the
first offense. But possession of any amount that is in public view is a
misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. Civil
rights lawyers say that many of those stopped by city police were arrested
after officers told them to empty their pockets, which brought the small
amount of drugs into view.”
However, reports the
editorial, “Marijuana arrests declined after passage of the 1977 law, but
that changed in the 1990s. Between 1997 and 2010, the city arrested 525,000
people for low-level, public-view possession, according to a legislative
In effect, the editorial is
stating the arresting cop can cause the offense to become a misdemeanor by
requiring the individual to empty his pockets and publicly display the
marijuana. This is an outrage, if The Times is correct. Even if the public
display is otherwise inadvertent or the foolish act of a person,
particularly a young person, it should not constitute a criminal act.
The issue has heated up
because as The Times editorial pointed out, “80 percent of those arrested in
the city are black and Latino, despite substantial data showing that whites
are more likely to use the drug.”
The answer is obvious. The
state legislature should make public possession of a small amount for
personal use a violation instead of a misdemeanor. Violations are not listed
Let’s stop making criminals out of our young men and women, giving them
criminal records which will prevent them from getting jobs and ruin their
"New Study By Bronx Public Defenders Claims
NYPD Cops Made Hundreds Of Unlawful Marijuana Arrests" By Daniel Beekman,
New York Daily News, April 3, 2012.
Bronx cops made hundreds of
unlawful marijuana arrests and trumped-up charges over a five-month period
last year despite a warning from Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly,
claims a study by the Bronx Defenders. The study released Friday shows that
illegal stops and searches are an “epidemic” in the Bronx, said Robin
Steinberg, Bronx Defenders executive director. Her organization interviewed
518 people apprehended for marijuana possession from May to October 2011 and
found that 41% had their rights violated. In 176 cases, there was no cause
for people to be detained, and in 184, the organization concluded that cops
"manufactured" misdemeanor charges by forcing people to show their pot.
Nearly all the people arrested for marijuana possession in the Bronx are
black and Latino men. The cases reveal "a policing strategy that
overwhelmingly and disproportionately targets young people of color and
relies on rampant disregard for the civil rights of the people the NYPD is
charged with protecting," the organization said in a statement.
Marijuana Arrests", New York Times Editorial, April 2, 2012
The New York State Legislature showed good sense when it exempted people
convicted of low-level marijuana possession from having to submit DNA to the
state database, unless they have been convicted of a previous crime. Still,
the state must do more to curb the arrests of tens of thousands of people
each year in New York City for minor possession of marijuana, despite a 1977
state law that decriminalized it.
State data show that the New York Police Department arrested more than
50,000 people last year for low-level possession, with about 30 percent
having no prior arrest record. More than 11,700 of those arrested were
16- to 19-year-olds; nearly half had never been arrested before and 94
percent had no prior convictions.... Civil rights lawyers say that many of
those stopped by city police were arrested after officers told them to empty
their pockets, which brought the small amount of drugs into view.
The Bronx Defenders, a public defender agency in that borough, reported last
week that it had examined the cases of 518 people arrested for low-level
possession in 2011 and concluded that 40 percent of them were unlawfully
arrested or charged.
Marijuana arrests declined after passage of the 1977 law, but that changed
in the 1990s. Between 1997 and 2010, the city arrested 525,000 people for
low-level, public-view possession, according to a legislative finding.
Lawmakers and civil rights lawyers are rightly outraged that more than 80
percent of those arrested in the city are black and Latino, despite
substantial data showing that whites are more likely to use the drug. Bills
pending in both the Senate and the Assembly could help reduce the inequity
in the law by making public possession of a small amount a violation instead
of a misdemeanor.
"Bogus Pot Arrests Rise In
NYC - Commissioner Kelly's Memo Proves Ineffective and Unenforced" by Ryan
Devereaux, The Guardian (UK), Alternet. March 30, 2012
Police officers in New York are "manufacturing"
criminal offenses by forcing people with small amounts of marijuana to
reveal their drugs, according to a survey by public defenders. Nearly half
of New Yorkers picked up for small amounts of marijuana possession in recent
months were not displaying the drug before they were stopped, the study
shows, despite an order by New York police chief Ray Kelly that officers
should not charge people in such circumstances. The revelations will fuel
criticisms of the NYPD's controversial "stop and frisk" policy, which
opponents say is criminalising a generation of young people from ethnic
minorities and leading to tensions between police and the public...
In September last year, Kelly issued an order to officers not to arrest
people caught with small amounts of marijuana. But the number of those
arrested increased after the order was made. In all, about 50,000 people
were arrested in 2011 for marijuana possession; some 30,000 of these came
after police stops..... According to the survey, the percentage of illegal
stop-and-frisks increased from 31% before the order to 44% after the order.
Similarly, the percentage of manufactured misdemeanors increased from 33% to
44%. One in three respondents said police had forced them to take the
marijuana out of pockets or from under clothes and produce it into public
illegally searched and then arrested for $5 of marijuana on Superbowl Sunday
Video shot by Alexander Hotz, edited by Alice Brennan
"Study: NYPD Violating Kelly Edict To End Improper
Marijuana Arrests" New York World, by Alice Brennan and Michael Keller,
March 30, 2012
Six months after New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered all
police officers under his command to cease arresting people carrying
marijuana, many are still being handcuffed and sent to jail after officers
coerce or trick them into displaying the drug. That’s the conclusion of a
close review of 517 cases by Bronx Defenders, a criminal defense and
legal advocacy organization, which found that nearly half of those picked up
for small amounts of marijuana possession in recent months were not
displaying the drug before they were stopped. Scott Levy, an attorney at the
Bronx Defenders, the legal and advocacy organization that led the survey,
said: “This is clearly an illegal practice"....
NYC, Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World?
Activists Rally at Bloomberg's Apartment Over Illegal, Racist Pot Arrests,
by Phillip Smith, Drug War Chronicle, Alternet, March 30, 2012.
New York City has the dubious
-- and well-earned -- reputation as the world's marijuana arrest capital,
with more than 50,000 people being arrested for pot possession there last
year alone at an estimated cost of $75 million. It also has a mayor, Michael
Bloomberg, who has famously said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, yet who
presides over a police force that has run roughshod over the state's
marijuana decriminalization law in order to make those arrests, almost all
of which are of members of the city's black and brown minority communities.
On Thursday, activists and concerned citizens organized as the New Yorkers
for Health & Safety campaign marched to the mayor's home, an apartment
building in Manhattan's Upper East Side, to call him on his hypocrisy,
chastise the NYPD for its racially-skewed stop-and-frisk policing, and
demand that the city quit wasting tens of millions a dollar a year on
low-level marijuana arrests even as it proposes cuts to other vital New York
Mayor Bloomberg's home, March 29, 2012 Photo: Drug
Percentage of Wrongful Marijuana Arrests Rose After Kelly's Order: Bronx
Public Defenders" By Ailsa Chang, WNYC, March 29, 2012
Public defenders in the Bronx said more than 40 percent of the marijuana
arrests they investigated in their borough between May and October 2011 show
violations of constitutional rights and problems with evidence.
these unlawful arrests, defense lawyers said, were made after an internal
NYPD order was issued directing all officers to follow the law when making
marijuana arrests. The Bronx Defenders, a public defender organization in
the South Bronx, and the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP spent
the past several months interviewing more than 500 clients arrested for
low-level marijuana possession in every precinct in the Bronx between last
May and October. In a written statement issued Thursday, they concluded that
more than 200 of the cases they studied present “clear constitutional and
evidentiary problems stemming primarily from unconstitutional searches and
seizures and improper charging of clients by the NYPD.”
"Police Powers in New York" New York Times
Editorial, March 17, 2012
The Police Department’s
tendency toward blanket surveillance is on vivid display in its
stop-and-frisk program, which results in the stopping of more than 600,000
mainly minority citizens on the streets every year. The department credits
the program with reducing crime, but there is no proof that it does. A study
carried out in connection with a federal lawsuit against the department has
found that only about 6 percent of stops result in arrest and that less than
1 percent turn up weapons. In addition to criminalizing the victims of these
stops, the program has undermined respect for law enforcement in the very
communities where it is most needed.
Like stop-and-frisk, the
city’s marijuana arrest initiative has also raised profound civil rights
concerns. The state decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana
35 years ago and decreed that people would be arrested for those amounts
only if they were displaying the drug in public. Even so, the city arrests
tens of thousands of mainly black and Latino young people for possession
every year. The department tacitly admitted wrongdoing last year, in a memo
telling officers to arrest people only if the drug was in plain public view.
But it could take years before the rank and file embrace the change.
The city has described the
marijuana arrests as a way of getting criminals off the street. But state
data show that a majority of people arrested under this program have no
prior convictions. The dangers associated with the program were underscored
last month in the Bronx when an overzealous drug detail pursued an unarmed
teenager into his home and shot him to death. A packet of marijuana was
found at the scene.
“City Has Highest Number of Marijuana Arrests in
More Than a Decade” by Ailsa Chang, WNYC, February 01, 2012
[Text and four-minute NPR news story
Last year, New York City police officers made the greatest number of
marijuana arrests in more than a decade, according to new state records.
The NYPD arrested about 50,700
people for low-level marijuana possession in 2011, a figure that comes just
months after the department ordered officers not make arrests for marijuana
possession if the marijuana was never in public view.
Defense lawyers and law
enforcement experts say they don't think the order has done much to change
what they believe to be unlawful police behavior on the streets....
For years, there have been
allegations that officers force people to display their marijuana in public
view before arresting them -- by either ordering people to empty their
pockets or reaching into pockets and pulling marijuana out themselves.
Kelly's order plainly stated that an officer may not arrest someone for a
misdemeanor in those cases.
would say that about half of the marijuana arrest cases that I see are
actually mischarged misdemeanors,” said Legal Aid lawyer Renate Lunn, “and,
in fact, even the court papers say that the marijuana was recovered from
some place that wasn't in public view, such as a sock or a backpack or the
glove compartment of a car.”
Lawyers elsewhere in the city
are seeing similar percentages of what they think are improper arrests.
Scott Levy of the Bronx Defenders is heading up the Marijuana Arrest
Project, which is systematically collecting data on the quality of marijuana
arrests they're seeing throughout the Bronx.
would say as much as 40 percent of these cases stem from illegal searches,
illegal stops of our clients, and the mischarging of our clients where
clients are charged with the misdemeanor of possessing marijuana in public
view where they only actually possessed it in their pocket," he said.
"Last year, more than 50,000 misdemeanor marijuana arrests flooded the
courts in New York City. It’s now by far the most common misdemeanor charge
in the city." - Ailsa Chang, WNYC, Feb 1, 2012
Photo: Karly Domb Sadof, WNYC
“Marijuana Arrests Rose in
2011, Despite Police Directive” by Andy Newman, New
York Times, February 1, 2012
Low-level arrests for marijuana possession in New York
City increased for the seventh
straight year in 2011, according to a study released Wednesday — despite a
September memorandum from the police commissioner that reminded officers to
follow the letter of the law and not arrest people with the drug unless they
have it in plain view.
Though arrests dropped significantly
after Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly’s memorandum, an increase of over 6
percent during the first eight months of the year more than offset the
decline, according to the analysis, conducted by a Queens College sociology
professor and released by the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group
critical of police marijuana-arrest policies.
The year-end arrest total was 50,684,
up 0.6 percent from 2010, the study found, constituting more arrests than in
the entire 19-year period 1978 to 1996 combined. Marijuana possession
was once again the largest arrest category in the city last year, and the
arrests cost the city about $75 million, said Harry G. Levine, the
sociologist who did the analysis.
The high numbers of marijuana arrests
under the Bloomberg administration have been linked by critics to the
police’s stop-and-frisk practices and disproportionate enforcement against
blacks and Hispanics.
While state law makes possession of less
than 25 grams of marijuana an arrestable misdemeanor offense only when
someone has it in public view, critics say that officers routinely make
people they “stop and frisk” empty their pockets, then arrest them for
having marijuana in public view.
vast majority of those stopped and frisked are black or Hispanic. And under
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, from 2002 to 2010, about 87 percent of those
arrested for marijuana were black or Hispanic, while only 10 percent were
white, according to a breakdown
on Dr. Levine’s
based on data from the state
Division of Criminal Justice Services.
“It is worth remembering and pointing out
that U.S. government studies consistently find that young whites use
marijuana at higher rates than young blacks and Latinos,” Dr. Levine said in
a statement. “But the police patrols, stop and frisks, and arrest quotas are
highest in black and Latino neighborhoods, and that is where the N.Y.P.D.
makes most marijuana possession arrests. Mayor Bloomberg is like the
Energizer bunny of marijuana arrests – he just keeps going and going and
“Pot arrests top 50K in 2011 despite NYPD order” by
Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press, Feb 1, 2012
a hundred papers across the US carried this AP story)
New York City
police still arrested more than 50,000 people on low-level marijuana charges
last year despite a drop off after officers were told not to use tactics
that critics decry as tricking people into getting arrested, according to
New York state data obtained by an advocacy group. In fact, 2011 arrests
for the lowest-ranking marijuana misdemeanor rose slightly, from about
50,400 to 50,700, the New York Division of Criminal Justice figures show.
The continued slew of pot arrests came as
the drug policy group and some elected officials trained attention on the
low-level marijuana charges that account for more arrests in the city than
any other crime. Almost 35 years after state lawmakers raised the bar for
booking people instead of ticketing them on marijuana-possession charges,
these arrests account for about one in every seven cases in the city's
have soared in the last 10 years. With the 2011 numbers, the New York Police
Department has made more than 227,000 bottom-rung marijuana possession
arrests in the last five years — slightly more than the entire span from
1978 to 2001, according to an analysis by Queens College sociologist Harry
Stephen Glover said he was standing
outside a Bronx job-training center in November, sharing a box of mints with
friends, when police came up to him, asked him whether he had anything in
his pockets that could hurt them and searched them without asking his
permission. They found the remains of two marijuana cigarettes in his
pockets, he said."They just take it upon themselves" to search, the
30-year-old Glover said by phone Wednesday....
The Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit legal
group, still hears plenty of accounts like Glover's, lawyer Scott D. Levy
said. "Our clients are still regularly stopped, searched, and marijuana is
recovered from their pocket, but at no point where they having it out,
smoking it," he said. But most take a dismissal deal or plead guilty to
a violation, rather than demand a hearing that generally comes after months
of court dates and prolongs a case that can compromise job prospects, he
said. "So the vast majority of cases are pleading out before a hearing is
ever held and these issues are really aired," Levy said....
Marijuana is the nation's most commonly
used illegal drug. Use has declined among those 19 and older since the late
1970s, began to rise again in the early 1990s but not hit '70s levels,
according to the latest installment of Monitoring the Future, a
government-funded study conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute
for Social Research. To the drug-policy advocates, the trend suggests the
surge in New York City pot busts stems from the stop-and-frisk strategy,
rather than reflecting drug use. More than a half a million people, mostly
black and Hispanic men, were stopped in 2010. About 10 percent of stops
result in arrests.
Meanwhile, two state lawmakers have
proposed to make it a violation, rather than a misdemeanor, to possess less
than 25 grams or about 7/8 of an ounce of marijuana, whether it's in the
open or not.
"New York remains in a fiscal crisis, and
we simply cannot afford to arrest tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding
citizens for possessing small amounts of marijuana - especially when so many
of these arrests are the result of illegal searches or false charges," Sen.
Mark Grisanti said in a statement Wednesday. The Republican, who's a
criminal defense lawyer, is sponsoring the proposal with Democratic
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries.
It's difficult to put a price tag on the
city's arrests, but Levine has estimated it cost an estimated $75 million in
2011 to process, jail and prosecute the low-level arrests in New York. That
figure was a compilation of estimated court costs, police manpower and jail
time, averaging about $1,500 per arrest — a cost shared by the state and
city. The city budget alone is $65 billion.
bogus arrests continue in spite of the current law and despite Commissioner
Kelly's operations order," said Gabriel Sayegh, the Drug Policy Alliance's
director for New York state. He called on state and federal authorities to
"Hypocritical NYPD Continues Racist Pot
Arrest Crusade," By Steven Wishnia, Alternet, Dec 30, 2011
Despite a well-publicized police order instructing officers not to use bogus
pretexts to justify marijuana arrests, New York City remains the pot-bust
capital of the United States....
department had come under criticism because the basis for many pot busts was
that defendants had emptied their pockets when told to do so by police — and
when they did, they brought their marijuana into “public view.”
In practice, little has changed, say defense attorneys and legalization
advocates. “It still is happening a lot,” says Sydney Peck, a Brooklyn
public defender. “A police officer pulls marijuana out of someone’s
pocket, and all of a sudden, it’s marijuana in public view”....
To be prosecuted for marijuana in public view, explains Odalys Alonzo, chief
assistant to Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, the defendant has to be
observed either smoking in public or displaying a glassine or plastic
package that police recognize as marijuana. “Sometimes, we see three
people charged for one joint, because we’ve seen them passing a joint,” she
“The volume seems to have kept up,” says Scott Levy, a lawyer with the Bronx
Defenders, a public-defender group. The biggest change since Kelly’s
announcement, Levy suspects, may be in how complaints are phrased. Police,
he says, are increasingly reporting that they saw a defendant “take an
object and put it in their pocket” and then found it to be marijuana when
they searched them, but “our clients are saying that they never had it out.”
Joshua Saunders, a staff attorney at the Brooklyn Defenders Society, another
public-defender group, says he’s seen a lot of “dropsy” cases, in which
police say they saw the defendant drop the marijuana on the ground. He
points out the police report of a man busted for three bags of pot in the
Brownsville neighborhood in November. It says the officer observed the man
on the sidewalk in front of a bodega “in possession of a quantity of
marihuana which was open to public view and which informant recovered from
defendant’s pants pocket.” Saunders wonders if the man had “transparent
Associated Press, "A Little Pot Is Trouble In
NYC: 50k Busts A Year" by Colleen Long, November 5, 2011
(over a hundred papers across the
US carried this AP story)
There are more arrests for
low-level pot possession in New York City — about 50,000 a year — than any
other crime, accounting for about one of every seven cases that turn up in
criminal courts.... Critics say the deluge has been driven in part by the
New York Police Department's strategy of stopping people and frisking
[them].... More than a half a million people, mostly black and Hispanic men,
were stopped last year — unfair targets, critics say.
Bronx community organizer Alfredo Carrasquillo, 27, estimated he's been
arrested on marijuana possession charges more than 20 times, starting when
he was 14 and police ordered him to empty out his pockets outside his high
school. He says he was arrested, but was never found smoking the drug or
holding it out in the open — though a 1977 state law says those with 25
grams of the drug or less in their pockets or bags should only be
ticketed.... "We weren't stupid enough to smoke it in the middle of the
day," he said. Gabriel Sayegh, the New York director of the Drug Policy
Alliance, a group critical of the national war on drugs, said the department
benefits from the arrests. "Every year, they're bringing 50,000 people into
their system," he said. "A significant portion of whom have not been
New York Times Editorial, "Trouble With Marijuana
Arrests," September 26, 2011
Raymond Kelly of the New York Police Department came forth with too little,
too late when he issued a memo directing officers not to arrest people
caught with small amounts of marijuana unless the drug is in plain public
view. A 1977 law decriminalized minor possession, yet tens of thousands are
arrested every year.
In 2010, more than 50,000 people were arrested for possession of marijuana;
a vast majority of them were racial minorities and male. Civil rights
lawyers say that many of them were stopped as part of the Police
Department’s broad stop-and-frisk practice and were arrested after officers
told them to empty their pockets, which brought the drugs into open view....
Young African-Americans and Hispanics, who are
disproportionately singled-out in street stops, make up a high percentage of
people arrested for marijuana possession — despite federal data showing that
whites are more likely to consume marijuana. This policing practice has
damaged young lives and deserves deeper scrutiny by federal and state
"Young Men's Initiative: The White
Mayor's Burden." by Steven Thrasher, The Village Voice, Sept 21, 2011
that "young men of color, who are hyper-policed in this city" are actually
walking around in large groups smoking pot in open view is absurd. So is the
notion that poor black males smoke pot more than richer, paler men and
women. But still, they get disproportionately arrested because, under Mayor
Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the NYPD uses controversial
UF-250s—"stop-and-frisks"—on them at a record-setting pace.
"I'm a police
officer, I come up to you," [Cassandra] Frederique explains as if she were a cop
approaching a young man in East New York. "'What are you doing? What's in
your pockets? Pull it out.' Once you pull it out, it becomes 'marijuana in
plain view.' And that's when they arrest you."
"Smoke and Horrors," column by
Charles M. Blow,
New York Times,
Oct 22, 2010
war on drugs in this country has become a war focused on marijuana, one
being waged primarily against minorities and promoted, fueled and financed
primarily by Democratic politicians.... This
is outrageous and immoral and the Democrat’s complicity is unconscionable,
particularly for a party that likes to promote its social justice bona
fides. No one knows all the
repercussions of legalizing marijuana, but it is clear that criminalizing it
has made it a life-ruining racial weapon. When will politicians have the
courage to stand up, acknowledge this fact and stop allowing young minority
men to be collateral damage.
"Escape from New York"
column by Charles M. Blow, New York Times, March 18, 2011
The New York Police Department under Mayor Michael
Bloomberg has made more of these minor drug arrests than under his previous
three predecessors combined. These targeting tactics mean that blacks are
arrested for minor drug possession at seven times the rate of whites
although on national surveys whites consistently say that they use marijuana
more than blacks or Hispanics.
"Drug Bust" column by Charles M. Blow,
New York Times,
June 10, 2011
The Drug War: An effort meant to save us from a form of moral decay became
its own insidious brand of moral perversion — turning people who should have
been patients into prisoners, criminalizing victimless behavior, targeting
those whose first offense was entering the world wrapped in the wrong skin.
It feeds our achingly contradictory tendency toward prudery and our
overwhelming thirst for punishment.
"Side Effects of Arrests for Marijuana" By
Jim Dwyer, New York Times, June 16, 2011
On average last year, someone was arrested
every 10 minutes in New
York City for
possessing a few pinches of marijuana — less than 25 grams — and no other
crime. More arrests, 50,383, were made in 2010 on this charge than on any
other, and arrests are being made at an even faster pace this year. “They’re
clogging the courts and ruining people’s lives, in terms of potential
collateral consequences for housing, employment, immigration,” said Steven
Banks, the attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society, which represented
30,000 people in minor marijuana cases last year.
"A Call To Shift
Policy on Marijuana"
By Jim Dwyer, New York Times, June 14, 2011
More people are arrested in New
York City on
charges of possessing small amounts of marijuana than on any other crime on
the books. Nearly all are black or Latino males under the age of 25, most
with no previous convictions. Many have never been arrested before.
"A Smell of Pot and Privilege in the City" By Jim Dwyer, New York Times,
July 21, 2010
No city in the
world arrests more of its citizens for using pot than New
York, according to statistics compiled by Harry G. Levine, a Queens College sociologist.
Nearly nine out of ten people charged with violating the law are black or
Latino, although national surveys have shown that whites are the heaviest
users of pot. Mr. Bloomberg himself acknowledged in 2001 that he had used
it, and enjoyed it.
Brooklyn’s 73rd Precinct
(Ocean Hill - Brownsville) has the second highest highest marijuana possession arrest rate in NYC
Heisler, The New York Times
WNYC, "Alleged Illegal Searches by NYPD May Be
Increasing Marijuana Arrests." by
Ailsa Chang. April 26, 2011 (excellent 10
minute radio show plus text)
An investigation by WNYC
suggests that some police officers may be violating people’s constitutional
rights when they are making marijuana arrests. Current and former cops,
defense lawyers and more than a dozen men arrested for the lowest-level
marijuana possession say illegal searches take place during stop-and-frisks,
which are street encounters carried out overwhelmingly on blacks and
[Ailsa Chang won a prestigious
DuPont Award for radio and television news for this
WNYC, "Alleged Illegal Searches By NYPD Rarely
Challenged in Marijuana Cases."
Chang. April 27, 2011
(excellent 8 minutes radio show plus text)
More than a dozen men who were
arrested in these precincts for misdemeanor marijuana possession told WNYC
the police recovered marijuana on them through illegal searches. None of
them challenged these allegedly illegal searches in court.
New York Times, California Blacks Split over Pot Arrests -
Jesse McKinley, July 19, 2010
This month, the Drug Policy Alliance — a New
York group that is supporting Proposition 19 — released a study showing that
blacks were arrested for possession at far higher rates than whites in
California’s 25 largest counties, often two or three times higher. In those
25 counties, blacks make up 7 percent of the population but accounted for 20
percent of the marijuana possession arrests; in Los Angeles County, which
accounts for about a quarter of the state’s population, blacks were arrested
for marijuana possession at three times the rate of whites.
"Whites Smoke Pot, but Blacks Are Arrested" by Jim Dwyer,
New York Times,
Dec 22, 2009
year, black New Yorkers were seven times more likely than whites to be
arrested for marijuana possession and no more serious crime. Latinos were
four times more likely.
In 2008, the police made more pot arrests “than in the 12 years of Mayor
Koch, plus the four years of Mayor Dinkins, plus the first two years of
Mayor Giuliani,” Mr. Levine wrote. “In
other words, in one year, 2008, Bloomberg made more pot arrests than in 18
years of Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani combined.”
Horacio Salinas, NY Magazine
Splitting Image of Pot" by Marc Jacobson,
New York Magazine, Sept 21, 2009
On the one hand,
marijuana is practically legal - more mainstream, accessorized, and taken
for granted than ever before. On the other, kids are getting busted in the
city in record numbers. Guess which kids.
AM New York, "High
Crimes" by Jason Fink, Sept 14,
With pot as
popular as ever, cops are busting NYers at
City Limits – "Hooked: Four
decades of drug war in New York City: Marijuana." By
Sean Gardiner - 2009
An excerpt from City Limits Magazine's
excellent whole issue on 40 years of the drug war on NY City.
All links and Articles About Police Commissioner Kelly's September 2011
Order To The NYPD Are Now At The Bottom Of This Page:
On September 23, 2011, Ailsa Chang at WNYC broke the news that NYPD
Commissioner Kelly had issued a written order regarding police procedures
for arresting people found possessing marijuana. Every news outlet in New
York and many national media subsequently covered the story. In his order to
the NYPD, Kelly in effect admitted that police officers were in fact
violating New York State law: they were arresting people who had marijuana
in a pocket or possessions but not "open for public view." Kelly said police
should not do that.
Kelly's oder also directly addressed what police officers should do after they
had requested, "directed" or "compelled" people to empty their pockets and
possessions and found some marijuana. Kelly's order said that after
requesting or compelling people to empty their pockets, police should not
arrest those who possessed less than 26 grams (7/8th of an ounce) of
marijuana, but should instead write a court appearance summons.
Kelly's order was praised by many commentators including the editorial
boards of the New York Times and the New York Daily News. A rally at One
Police Plaza, with City Council and State Legistlature members, sincerely
praised the NYPD for agreeing to obey the law. Many hoped that Kelly's
order would produce a serious decline in the number of marijuana arrests, or
even an end to the NYPD's marijuana possession arrest crusade. That did not
By December, data from the New York State Office of Criminal Justice
Services indicated only a small drop in arrests following Kelly's
order. In February 2012 New York State released the official arrest numbers
for 2011 which showed that the NYPD had made MORE marijuana possession
arrests in 2011 than in 2010, and more than in over a decade: 50,684
arrests for marijuana possession. In March 2012, the Bronx Defenders
reported that a study they conducted with a prominent law firm found that at
least 40% of the people arrested for marijuana possession had been illegally
stopped or searched. And that such illegal arrests had increased since
At the time of Kelly's order a "breaking news" section was created at
Marijuana-Arrests.Com. It is below as kind of historical artifact of a
moment of false but sweet hopefulness about the NYPD's reducing and
eliminating these expensive, pointless, and life-damaging arrests.
Seven months later it is clear that Kelly's order changed nothing. Not one
officer has ever been charged, punished, or even reprimanded for arresting
people for marijuana found in a pocket, purse or backpack, or for illegally
searching people by reaching into their pockets and possessions. In a police
department that has repeatedly insisted that it believes strongly in
"sending a message," the non-punishment of any kind for illegal marijuana
arrests sends a clear message indeed.
And the marijuana possession arrests – legal, quasi-legal, and flat-out
unconstitutional – continue.
NYPD COMMISSIONER TELLS NYPD
TO STOP IMPROPER ARRESTS
NOT MUCH CHANGE
MARIJUANA ARRESTS IN 2011 HIT
A TEN YEAR HIGH
Source: WNYC with Highcharts / Drawn by John Keefe