NYC the “Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World”

The title is nothing to brag about but it’s official, with recent numbers stating the Big Apple gets about 15% of its arrests from marijuana offenders, the city is officially the “marijuana arrest capital of the world,” according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Low level marijuana arrests account for the greatest number of arrests by the NYPD. In 2010, police there arrested 50,383 people for low level possession charges and this has nothing to do with increased pot usage, merely stricter enforcement.

City officials have cracked down on marijuana use over the past several years, with 2010 marking the 6th year that arrests increased, despite use peaking in 1980. Mayor Bloomberg’s administration has been the most active ever in marijuana enforcement.

So, who’s being arrested? Well, about 70% are under the age of 30 and 86% are Black or Latino, even though marijuana is more prevalent among whites. Most are arrested, brought to the station and booked, held for about 24 hours before being arraigned and released. Imagine the financial strain this puts on the local system.

Considering we are talking about low level possession charges, officers are spending a lot of time for a few grams of pot when they could be addressing public safety crimes instead.

But wait—isn’t pot possession an infraction in NYC? This is where the NYPD gets clever. Possessing a small (25 grams or less) amount of marijuana is only an infraction, a fine, not a crime. However, if you posses even a small amount of pot in public view it’s considered a misdemeanor.

So, if an officer asks a suspect to empty his pockets and he complies (as most people do), any marijuana that was in his pocket is now “in public view” and the suspect is subject to arrest and criminal charges. Seems like a big hassle for a little bit of weed right?

Why the crackdown on such low level possession charges? It’s really anyone’s guess though the practice is obviously racially biased. It could be that the NYPD wants people to know they are in their neighborhoods and not afraid to make arrests for even the smallest violations, hoping to deter the bigger crimes. But the costs of this approach outweighs any small benefit in deterrence.

Several organizations including the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reforms and Alternatives, and the Drug Policy Alliance are asking the NYPD to end their fruitless crusade against low level pot offenders and to reestablish the integrity of the 1977 marijuana decriminalization law.

In the meantime, the NYPD will no doubt continue arresting people for possession and be on target for another year of massive marijuana arrests.

If you are facing charges of marijuana possession or even trafficking in New York, we may be able to help. Contact us today for a free consultation on your case.

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