In November of 2014, roughly one year ago, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Chief Bill Bratton began to alter NYC’s approach to marijuana possession. The NYPD’s policies resulted in the disproportion application of “stop and frisk” interactions with young African-American and Latino men. These frequent interactions resulted in arrest rates that were significantly higher for minorities compared to the arrest rates for whites. In light of changing attitudes towards marijuana and the problems caused by the previous policy, on November 19, 2014, the policy regarding police actions after discovering small amounts of marijuana was changed.
Under the new policy individuals found to possess 25 grams or less of marijuana are supposed to receive only a citation and were not supposed to be arrested. Furthermore, the common police practice of asking individuals to “empty their pockets” so as to expose the marijuana to public view when an arrest can be made was ended. Now, as long as an individual has less than 25 grams of marijuana, he or she should only face a citation regardless of whether the marijuana is concealed or in plain view.
While the reform has been successful in some respects, it has brought along with it some unexpected impacts. While a large number of young people have been spared the embarrassment and employment consequences of an arrest, it appears that there this policy is being rolled-out unevenly in different neighborhoods.
Marijuana Arrests Are Down, Tickets Are Up In Many Neighborhoods…
Overall, arrests for the simple possession of marijuana in New York City decreased significantly from 2014 to 2015. As of September 30 and compared to data detailing a similar period from last year, arrests for marijuana were down 44 percent. The first nine months of 2014 resulted in 22,225 arrests for possession of pot. The first nine months of 2015 resulted in 12,530 arrests. The number of tickets issued in New York has increased as the number of arrests have dropped. In 2014, NYPD officers and other law enforcement agencies wrote about 13,378 tickets for low-level possession of marijuana. In 2015, it is likely that about 16,000 tickets will be issued by the year’s close. The increase in tickets is not sufficient to offset the decrease in arrests as it is likely that the lower priority assigned to this offense means that other, more serious crimes are being prioritized by police.
…But Minorities Are Still Being Arrested for Marijuana Possession as Disproportionate Rates
Last year Mayor de Blasio accurately summed up the consequences of low-level marijuana arrests for many New Yorkers by stating, “Low‐level marijuana possession arrests have disastrous consequences for individuals and their families. These arrests limit one’s ability to qualify for student financial aid and undermine one’s ability to find stable housing and good jobs. What’s more, recent studies demonstrate clear racial bias in arrests for low‐level possession…. This policy is unjust and wrong.”
Statistics have long backed-up the charges by advocates that the NYPD engages in searches against men and women of color at disproportionate rates. Many believe that this policy and practice isn’t really about finding marijuana, but more so to discover contraband like guns, weapons, and harder drugs so that arrests for more serious offenses can be made. The fact that arrests for Hispanic and African-American individuals have remained elevated despite decriminalization lends further credence to this theory.
Consider that in 2014, 86 percent of the 22,225 arrests for marijuana were of African-American or Hispanic individuals. In 2015, 88 percent of low-level marijuana arrests have been of Hispanic or African-American individuals. That means that out of the more than 12,500 arrests for marijuana, more than 11,000 of those arrested were African-American or Hispanic. Furthermore, consider that while only 48 arrests were made in Throggs Neck in the Bronx, 720 arrests were made in nearby Kingsland.
While the new NYPD policy regarding marijuana arrests was intended to bring a more even application of justice to all citizens of New York City, it is not clear if the policy is having the intended effect. While citizens in the more affluent areas of New York appear to be benefitting from decriminalization, far too many young African-American and Hispanic people are getting still getting swept-up into the criminal justice system.
Facing Criminal Charges in NYC? Put Our Experience to Work for You
If you have been arrested in New York City due to possession of marijuana, we can fight for you. Likewise, if a search for marijuana uncovered a harder drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine or an illegal gun or other weapon, the experienced criminal defense team of Sullivan & Galleshaw can fight for you. To schedule a free and confidential initial legal consultation call 800-730-0135 or contact us online today.