High on Marijuana Arrests
February 11th, 2011
Mayor Michael Bloomberg famously once said that he had inhaled marijuana and enjoyed it. But that doesn’t mean he wants you to.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the city last year arrested 50,383 people for low-level marijuana offenses, an increase from 2009 and 70 percent more than in 2005. This is reportedly more than the total number of people arrested between 1978 and 1996 during the Koch, Dinkins and part of the Giuliani administrations.
“New York has made more marijuana arrests under Bloomberg than any mayor in New York City history,” Harry Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College and expert on marijuana arrests said in a Drug Policy Alliance release. “Bloomberg’s police have arrested more people for marijuana than Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani combined.”
And the group says this probably is not because we’ve become a city of stoners: Nationally experts believe marijuana use peaked around 1980. Instead, the alliance says, the sharp rise comes about because “over the last 20 years, NYPD has quietly made arrests for marijuana their top enforcement priority, without public acknowledgement or debate.”
Few of those arrested resemble the mayor, at least from a demographic perspective, According to the alliance, 70 percent of them are under 30 and 86 percent are black or Latino.
Although possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized in 1977, having it in public view — such as smoking it — is a misdemeanor. According to the alliance, many people fall on the wrong side of the law when police ask them to empty their pockets. When they comply, the marijuana comes into public view, ramping up the severity of the offense.
In 2008, Edward McCarthy, a legal aid supervisor in Manhattan criminal court, told Gotham Gazette’s Andy Humm how this works. “Every day in New York City,” McCarthy said, “many young men, mostly blacks and Hispanics, are arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. … They are stopped by police, often as part of a stop and frisk, and are usually tricked or intimidated into taking out and handing over their contraband.”
While some have attributed the police pursuit of marijuana offenses as an effort to increase overtime, the department’s Paul Brown said the arrests serve a purpose. He told Humm, “Attention to marijuana and lower level crime in general has helped drive crime down.”By Gail Robinson on February 11, 2011, 2:49 pm
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