The city’s police department’s stop and frisk policy is sending thousands of young people of color through the penal system for minor marijuana arrests, according to a recently released study.
The Drug Policy Alliance report found that there were 50,383 low-level marijuana possession arrests last year and 86 percent of those arrested were young people of color.
“Had this been 86% of our young children of a lighter shade, there would be uproar. I believe there still should be,” said Flatbush City Councilmember Jumaane. Williams. “These arrests are simply about boosting arrest numbers and aren’t the answer to our problems.”
There are two components to all the marijuana arrests, explained Evan Goldstein, policy coordinator for the alliance. The first is that in 1977, the state decriminalized concealed possession of up to 25 grams or seven-eighths of an ounce of marijuana. People caught with under this amount of weed are given a violation ticket, similar to a traffic offense, and are subject to a $100 fine.
The second component, however, is that those caught burning or exhibiting marijuana in public are committing a class B misdemeanor, which is an arrestable offense.
“In communities of color which has both police Impact Zones and stop and frisk policing, you have cops coming up to young men of color and saying to empty their pockets. “If even the slightest amount of marijuana is in their pockets, once they take it out, even if it’s through police coercion, it becomes public view and then arrests are made.”
Such an arrest was made of Brownsville resident Chino Hardin, who was stopped by plain clothes police in 2005 with three “nickel” bags of marijuana in her pocket – far less than three-quarters of an ounce.
“They (cops) pulled me into a building and said, ‘Where are the drug?’” Hardin recalled. “I said if I had marijuana they would have to find it.”Hardin recalled after being searched the cops pulled out the marijuana and then arrested her for exhibiting it in public. She then spent two days in the prison system before the matter was eventually dropped to a violation.Goldstein pointed out that 70 percent of these arrested on these minor pot charges are under the age of 29, and for many it is their first encounter with the prison system.
The study also found that these minor marijuana arrests costs the city $75 million a year at a time when many safety net programs are being cut due to budget constraints.
NYPD Police commissioner Ray Kelly has repeatedly defended the stop and frisk policing, particularly in communities of color because it helps fight the high incidents of black-on-black crime. Kelly told reporters that the reason police make the marijuana arrests is because cops are following the letter of the law and once pot is displayed it becomes a misdemeanor and arrestable.
The report notes that during the Bloomberg administration from 2002 through 2010 cops made nearly 350,000 arrests for marijuana possession – costing taxpayers $350 million to $700 million. It also found that although 70 percent of the arrests were of black and Latino between 16-29, “More people have been arrested for marijuana possession under Mayor Bloomberg than under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani combined,” said report co- author Dr. Harry Levine, a sociology professor at City University of New York and a national expert on marijuana arrests. City Councilwoman Letitia James said it’s clear that the NYPD’s current policy of giving high arrest priority to marijuana enforcement is fiscally wasteful, and has a greater impact on low-income communities where the ‘war-on-drugs’ has been primarily focused. “Although African-Americans only constitute 13% of national of drug users, they make up 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those convicted of drug offenses. It is fair to say that the high priority given to marijuana enforcement directly relates to racial profiling in New York,” she said.