Ending the Marijuana Arrest Crusade in New York State

The 2013 Legislative Session Ends Without Fix to Broken Marijuana Law

The NY legislative session ended without the Senate passing the marijuana decriminalization bill (S.3105A – Squadron/A.6716A – Camara) that the Assembly passed in late May. We had the support needed to pass the reform legislation if it had come to the Senate floor for a vote, but the Senate leadership never moved the bill. Because the Senate failed to pass the legislation, tens of thousands of people – mostly Black and Latino young men – will be arrested between now and the next legislative session, which starts in January 2014. And taxpayers will pay for it.

While we did not succeed in winning reform this session, together we put up a tremendous fight. Many of you came to Albany, made phone calls, passed out fliers, met with elected officials, attended rallies and actions and meetings, submitted letters of support, called upon allies to take action, incorporated this issue into your existing (and already packed) to-do list, and much more. And because of your efforts, we made real, significant progress over the last six months. Stay tuned for more campaign updates.

Biased marijuana arrests occur throughout New York

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued an exhaustive 50-state report about racially biased marijuana arrests in the United States. The report found that racial disparities due to marijuana arrests New York counties are amongst the highest   in the nation.

Governor Cuomo Makes Marijuana Arrest Reform a Priority in 2013

In his 2013 State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced marijuana decriminalization as one of his priorities for the year. “The stigma of the criminal records that can have lasting and deleterious effects on the young person’s future,” he said. These arrests are “not fair, it's not right. It must end, and it must end now."

In March, DPA worked with the Marijuana Arrest Research Project  to release a report, “One Million Police Hours.” The reports documents that the NYPD spent nearly one million hours arresting and processing 440,000 people during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure from 2002-2012.

In late March there was serious consideration from the Governor and at the highest levels of New York government to fix the flawed marijuana arrests law in the state budget. However, despite strong support from leaders and community group from across the state, state legislators went on vacation in March without fixing the marijuana possession law.. DPA and its allies will push for the marijuana law fix in April during the regular legislative session.

The New York City Council Passes Resolution to Support Legislative Change to Law

In 2012, The New York City Council overwhelming passed Resolution 986-A, introduced by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Oliver Koppell, which supports the marijuana arrest reform legislation in Albany and condemns the unlawful police practices in NYC.

Click here and watch personal video testimonials to learn about how the NYPD exploits New York law to arrest 50,000 people every year, falsely charging and arresting them for marijuana possession.

NYPD Not Complying With Order to Stop Wrongful Marijuana Charges

In September 2011, our campaign reached an apparent breakthrough when NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued an internal directive ordering police to follow the law. The order prohibited police from making arrests for marijuana possession in "public view" when the person was compelled by an officer to display marijuana in public. This tacit admission that police have been routinely breaking the law means that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have been illegally arrested and falsely charged over the last 15 years. Although arrests have gone down, the directive didn’t yield meaningful results because NYPD is still not following the directive. As a result, tens of thousands of people are still being unlawfully arrested for marijuana possession, continuing to make marijuana arrests the number one arrest in NYC and a top arrest in the state.


In 1977, New York State decriminalized possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana, making it a non-criminal violation punishable by a $100 fine, like a traffic ticket. “Possessing or burning marijuana in public view,” however, is a criminal misdemeanor offense. The police either trick people into publicly revealing marijuana concealed in a pocket or handbag by demanding they “empty their pockets” – or the police simply illegally search them – and then falsely charge and arrest them for public view or burning even when the marijuana was concealed. In 2011, the NYPD used this loophole to arrest 50,684 people – mostly young people of color –  for misdemeanor marijuana possession, making marijuana possession the number one arrest in NYC.

New York’s mass marijuana arrests are a relatively recent phenomenon. In the mid-1990s, NYPD changed its practices to prioritize arrests for low-level offenses, like marijuana possession. Every year, more and more people are arrested for this offense: more people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2011 alone than the total number of such arrests from 1981-1995.

These marijuana possession arrests cost taxpayers $75 million a year. Nearly 70 percent of those arrested are under 30 years old, and most are under 21 years old. Eighty-four percent of those arrested are black and Latino, even though whites use marijuana at higher rates.

A marijuana arrest is no small matter – most people are handcuffed, placed in a police car, taken to a police station, fingerprinted and photographed, held in jail for 24 hours or more, and then arraigned before a judge. The arrest creates a permanent criminal record that can easily be found on the Internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards and banks.

Since Mike Bloomberg became mayor ten years ago, the NYPD has made over 400,000 lowest-level marijuana possession arrests, at a cost of at least $600 million dollars. In fact, in just the last 5 years under Mayor Bloomberg, the NYPD has made more arrests than under the last three mayors – whose combined terms lasted 24 years.

If you are interested in hosting a Know Your Rights training in your area, click here to download the request form, or send an email to kfrederique@drugpolicy.org.




Free Trainings in New York City

The Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives (IJJRA), and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) are offering "Know Your Rights, Build Your Future", a 2-part training for New York City's youth and adults!

At the training, you will learn:

  • About your rights during a police encounter
  • How to understand stop-and-frisk
  • What we can do together to build community justice and safety

Download the request form here if you are interested in hosting a Know Your Rights training in your area.