Across the country and right here in New York, there are signs that the tide is shifting on marijuana, toward a recognition that reform, if not outright legalization, is necessary. The state now has a medical marijuana law, albeit a deeply flawed one. As of July, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office stopped prosecuting first-time possession offenders caught with less than two ounces of weed. Even the New York Times is now advocating for prohibition’s repeal.
But for the people most affected by our country’s misguided marijuana policy—black and Latino youths—not much has changed. At least not yet.
A report issued today by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug Policy Alliance shows that, from March to August this year, the NYPD made more marijuana possession arrests than they did during the same period last year, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Unsurprisingly, 86% of those arrested were black or Latino, compared to 10% white, although whites use marijuana at equal to or greater levels than other racial groups.
The report also shows that nearly 75% of those arrested for marijuana possession this year have never been convicted of even a single misdemeanor, and includes an extensive analysis showing that low- and middle-income minority communities are arrested for possession at dramatically higher rates white communities of every class bracket. For example, East Harlem’s rate of marijuana possession arrests is 1128 per 100,000 residents, 110 times higher than the overwhelmingly white Upper East Side’s 10-per-100,000 ratio.
#myNYPD, indeed. For dramatic ironical effect, the report includes several campaign quotes from Bill de Blasio, including his oft-repeated chestnut that New York is a “tale of two cities” and a comment directly addressing the disparately-felt effects of marijuana arrests: “Recent studies demonstrate clear racial bias in arrests for low‐level possession,” de Blasio said. “This policy is unjust and wrong.”
But perhaps these numbers aren’t terribly surprising, given the fondness for such historically prejudiced policing techniques like stop-and-frisk demonstrated by current NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. Some things never change.
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.