In response to the more than 500,000 people arrested in New York City for public possession of marijuana over the last 15 years, Human Rights Watch recently released a report, “A Red Herring: Marijuana Arrestees Do Not Become Violent Felons,” demanding a closer look at the allocation of resources to pot arrests.
While NYPD officials will tell you marijuana possession enforcement is lower in priority than violent crime, for instance, it seems as if individual officers are committed to arresting as many young minorities as possible—whether for pot or loitering. And the NYPD including Mayor Bloomberg say these marijuana arrests are playing a significant role in reducing violent crime. Not so, says the Human Rights Watch report.
For their research, the organization looked at the criminal records of 30,000 people arrested for public possession of marijuana, without having a criminal history. Ninety percent of them had no subsequent felony convictions. 3.1 percent had a violent felony conviction after their arrest and an additional 0.4 percent had two or more violent felony convictions. In other words, the argument that these pot possessors are somehow dangerous criminals that need to be taken off the streets, simply doesn’t hold water.
Police officials, and the Mayor, have used this argument repeatedly when speaking in favor of pot enforcement—but never have they detailed how the arrests help. This latest research shows, in fact, that they don’t.
“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,” says co-author of the report Issa Kohler-Hausmann.
Even an arrest for something as seemingly insignificant as pot possession can have far reaching and lasting effects, particularly for someone who didn’t already have a criminal history. Difficulty in finding work, the loss of an existing job, and difficulty finding housing and loans are all very real possibilities in the wake of such a conviction.
Recently, a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana was shot down by legislature. Sadly it seems, like other states stuck in the “tough on crime” mentality, New York isn’t ready for major, progressive pot policy change.
If you are arrested and charged with a marijuana offense or even a crime involving other drugs, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Contact our offices today to discuss your charges and how we might be able to help.