A 108-page study, “The Marijuana Arrest Crusade in New York City: Racial Bias in Police Policy 1997-2007”, written by Harry Levine of Queens College and lawyer Deborah Patterson Small, was released yesterday by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The report shows nearly 400,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana since 1977, when the NY State legislature amended the Rockefeller Drug Laws by passing the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977. That reform made simple possession of marijuana a violation and not a crime under § (221) of the State Penal Law.
Notwithstanding these reforms, the report alleges that most of the arrests were based on a questionable stop and frisk campaign aimed primarily at minorities and young people and not for having marijuana “burning or open to public view”. Data provided by the Division of Criminal Justice Services showed that 52% of the suspects were Black, 31% Hispanic and only 15% White. Blacks represented 26% of the city’s population, Latinos accounted for 31% of the arrests but 27% of the population and Whites represented only 15% of those arrested while comprising 35% of the population.
The report puts the yearly cost to NYC of arresting, jailing and arraigning an average of 35,000 people a year, mostly teenagers and young adults, at approximately $53 million to $88 million. Despite NYPD claims that the effort is effective, the report says the arrests do not reduce serious or violent crime and may increase it by diverting officers from more effective anti-crime work.