Marijuana Possession Arrests Up in NYC, Despite Decriminalization

The turning tide of marijuana reform first started in the 1970s, as many state and local governments started to recognize the ill effects of locking up non-violent, low-level offenders for mere possession of the drug. One of the first states to climb on board the decriminalization movement was New York, with its Marijuana Reform Act of 1977. That measure decriminalized small-time possession.marijuana2

And yet, as it was recently reported by The Village Voice, the number of marijuana arrests in state in 2013 was the highest of any other in the country. With an average of more than 535 marijuana arrests per 100,000 people, it was more than double the national average.

Then in 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio updated police policy to allow officers to issue a summons rather than initiate an arrest for anyone caught with 25 grams or less. That slashed the number of misdemeanor marijuana arrests virtually overnight by nearly 60 percent between 2014 and 2015.

But now, the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services indicates those statistics have risen once again.

The NYPD marijuana arrests involving low-level possession and sales for the first three months of this year spiked 30 percent. There were 5,311 such arrests from January to March 2016, compared to 3,973 during the same time frame a year ago.

What’s going on?

If an eight-year veteran of the force and plaintiff in a pending class action lawsuit is to be believed, the issue is the department’s heavy reliance on “quota-based policing,” and the fact that the police department is being used to drum up dollars for the city. Bear in mind, the average misdemeanor arrest allows the city to rake in about $2,000.

For a long time, officers could lean on “Stop-and-Frisk” policies (otherwise known as “Terry Stops”) in which police routinely stopped and questioned pedestrians – more often than not, African Americans and Latinos – and initiated a “voluntary” search that could lead to an arrest. But de Blasio promised to scrap the program in 2014 amid widespread criticism.

The class action lawsuit plaintiff alleges every officer on the force is expected to make five arrests monthly. Marijuana offenses, he said, are the “low-hanging fruit.”

Another serious issue is that once again, the majority of defendants in these cases, according to the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), are black. The director of PROP alleges the high-profile reforms intended to get rid of racial profiling haven’t meant much to the average officer on the streets.

The executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was quoted as saying the department’s current commissioner Bill Bratton, who has been touting the evils of marijuana in a series of recent public statements. Bratton was quoted as saying that marijuana was the driving force behind the “vast majority” of violent crimes in the city. He put the drug on par with heroin in terms of danger.

But even top-level brass at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration concede heroin is “clearly” more harmful than cannabis, and in fact, may even be much safer than alcohol in many respects.

Still that kind of attitude – and public statement – powers police, prosecutors and others in the system to continue the marijuana shakedown of low-level offenders.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:

If Marijuana is decriminalized in NYC, then why are possession arrests on the rise? June 1, 2016, By Anita Abedian, The Village Voice

More Blog Entries:

Driver Allegedly High on Medical Marijuana Caused Crash Resulting in Trooper’s Death, June 1, 2016, L.A. Marijuana Arrest Lawyer Blog