Extreme Racial Disparities Continue in 2017, with 86% of Arrests being Black and Latino, Despite Similar Rates of Use
NYPD Arrested 700,000 New Yorkers for Low-Level Marijuana Possession over the Past 20 Years
New York, N.Y. – On February 26, 2018, the New York City Council Committees on Justice System and Public Safety will hold a joint hearing on marijuana enforcement and data gathering in New York City. This hearing comes as advocates decry another year of thousands of arrests for low-level marijuana possession – more than 17,800 in 2017 – despite the state legislature decriminalizing personal possession forty years ago and Mayor de Blasio acknowledging in 2013 that clear racial bias in arrests show “this policy is unjust and wrong.”
These arrests also continue to be marked by extremely high racial disparities under Mayor de Blasio, as was the case under the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations. Black and Latino New Yorkers continue to comprise 86 percent of the more than 70,000 people arrested for low-level marijuana possession on Mayor de Blasio’s watch. Most people arrested are young Black and Latino New Yorkers – in 2017, nearly 40 of those arrested were under 21 years old.
Marijuana prohibition enforcement continues to be used as a justification for massive violations of civil and human rights in New York City. The recent indictment of two New York detectives for raping and kidnapping an 18-year-old woman they arrested for allegedly possessing a small amount of marijuana following an unnecessary search (as the young woman sat in her parked car) illustrates the dramatic harm that can result from continued marijuana arrests. The issue of sexual consent while in custody will also be discussed at the hearing.
Speaker Corey Johnson on Friday tweeted his support for marijuana legalization, saying, “I support legalization for a variety of reasons: eliminates the black market, enforcement is biased against communities of color, creates revenue, creates jobs, studies haven't showed that kinda will get hooked with legalization and the sky will not fall. No chicken little.”
Monday’s City Council hearing will feature testimony calling for an end to New York City’s marijuana arrest crusade from a broad spectrum of advocates, including representatives from civil rights, criminal justice reform, policing experts, immigration rights advocates, former law enforcement, and drug policy reform. Representatives from the Start SMART NY campaign (SMART stands for Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade), a coalition that supports ending marijuana prohibition in New York, will testify at the hearing.
What: City Council Committees on Justice System and Public Safety (link to agenda)
When: Monday, February 26, 2018, 10 AM
Where: City Hall—Committee Room
Who: Broad coalition of advocates, including:
The ongoing marijuana arrest crusade has led to more than 800,000 people being arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York State over the past 20 years, with over 700,000 arrests by the NYPD alone. On average, 60 New Yorkers are arrested every day for marijuana possession, making marijuana possession one of the top arrests in the state. Although drug use and drug selling occur at similar rates across racial and ethnic groups, Black and Latino individuals are arrested for possessing marijuana at vastly disproportionate rates. In 2017, more than 86% of all those arrested for marijuana possession in NYC were Black and Latino; nearly 83% of those arrested were under 30 years old; and 38% were under 21 years old.
“New York’s marijuana arrest crusade has resulted in significant harms for those who are most vulnerable and has been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color, funneling tens of thousands of New Yorkers into the maze of the criminal justice system every year and putting people at risk of deportation, losing custody of their children, and barring them from employment and housing for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “As New York finally sheds its embarrassing distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world, we must repair the harms of prohibition and end the biased policing practices that have ruined the lives of so many young Black and Latino New Yorkers. Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to legalize and regulate marijuana in New York.”