Press Release

Westchester Report Shows Stark Marijuana Arrest Disparities

Drug Policy Alliance | Westchester Coalition for Police Reform

Westchester Advocates Call for an End to Marijuana Prohibition in New York

Contacts:

Drug Policy Alliance
Melissa Moore, mmoore@drugpolicy.org, (646) 470-2827

Westchester Coalition for Police Reform
Kathy Kaufman, wespacfoundation@gmail.com, (914) 591-4036

White Plains, NY — Today, WESPAC Foundation, Westchester Coalition for Police Reform, and the Drug Policy Alliance released a report highlighting marijuana prohibition enforcement practices in Westchester County and their disparate impact on Black and Latino residents.

The report, Marijuana Arrests and Enforcement in Westchester County, reveals that marijuana prohibition in Westchester county has largely targeted people of color and that the harms of prohibition—including increased barriers to higher education, housing, and employment opportunities—have been born almost entirely by Westchester’s Black and Latino residents.

Based on extensive analysis of data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, the report found that, similar to New York City, those being arrested for low-level marijuana possession in Westchester were largely young people and largely people of color. The report shows that although only 14 percent of Westchester County’s residents are Black, Black people comprised over half (52 percent) of those arrested for low-level marijuana possession in Westchester County from 2013-2017. Latino people have also been disproportionately impacted, comprising just 24 percent of residents, but 32 percent of arrestees. These disparities exist despite data showing similar rates of use across racial and ethnic groups.

The disproportionate arrests among Black people for low-level marijuana possession holds true regardless of whether communities have a sizable percentage of Black residents. Over the past five years, the average arrest rate for Black people (318 per 100,000 population) was about fifteen times that of whites (21) County-wide.

The report also documents how youth in particular are targets of marijuana enforcement in Westchester County. From 2013 to 2017, 60 percent of people arrested for low-level marijuana possession in Westchester County were 25 years old or younger, and nearly one in three (29 percent) were under the age of 20.

“Arrests for marijuana possession take an enormous toll on black and brown communities, destroying families, careers, homes and lives. The disparities in who is arrested for marijuana use are a stark barometer of racially biased policing in this county and across the state. Legalizing, and regulating, marijuana is a critical racial justice issue and a common sense public health policy,” said Shannon Wong, Westchester Coalition for Police Reform member and Chapter Director, New York Civil Liberties Union.

Advocates in the criminal justice field from across the state have pushed for the decriminalization of low-level marijuana possession for years citing the racially disproportionate enforcement and the devastating collateral consequences that can accompany a marijuana arrest or conviction, and are now calling for legalization rooted in racial and economic justice.

“The legalization of marijuana is a racial justice issue in New York State. Westchester County has one of the highest rates of disproportionate marijuana policing in New York State that have caused harm in communities of color. The WESPAC Community would like to see those communities who have been most impacted by marijuana policing to be the first to benefit from its legalization in terms of new business development and entrepreneurship,” said Nada Khader, Executive Director of WESPAC.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have now ended marijuana prohibition and instituted policies to tax and regulate marijuana -- moving oversight of marijuana policies from the criminal justice system to regulatory bodies. Data from those states on trends in use and public safety show that marijuana legalization has had no discernible negative impact. And most importantly, people are no longer being confronted daily with the threat of criminalization because of their use.

Momentum is building for marijuana policy reform in New York State, and advocates across Westchester County and the state are calling for an end to marijuana prohibition and signing on to the Start SMART NY campaign to tax and regulate marijuana. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (Krueger/Peoples-Stokes), which would legalize marijuana for adult use in New York and reclassify or seal records for prior marijuana arrests, is pending in the legislature. Additionally, the New York State Department of Health recently released its report on the impact of marijuana legalization for the state, concluding that “the pros of a regulated program outweigh the cons” and endorsing legalization and measures to address the collateral consequences people face for a prior marijuana possession conviction.

“As states across the country continue to re-envision their marijuana policies, it is imperative that New York turn the page on marijuana prohibition and the extensive damage it has done to communities. We have seen how other states have effectively shifted away from criminalization and are instead reinvesting in communities and providing economic opportunities. There is ample evidence that ending marijuana prohibition is a smart way for New York policy makers to uphold the rights of all New Yorkers and support economic growth. Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to create a system to tax and regulate marijuana that will repair and reinvest in communities that have been most harmed by the marijuana arrest crusade,” said Chris Alexander of the Drug Policy Alliance. 

Read the full report: http://smart-ny.com/marijuana-arrests-westchester

Criminal Justice Reform
Marijuana Legalization and Regulation
Race and the Drug War
Reforming Marijuana Laws
New York