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Mass Marijuana Arrest Policy Costs NYC Big Bucks

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #675)
Consequences of Prohibition

In a report released Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance charged that New York City's unwritten policy of mass arrests of pot smokers -- overwhelmingly young and minority -- is costing the city $75 million a year. The report, bluntly titled $75 Million a Year: The Cost of New York City's Marijuana Arrests, was co-authored by City University of New York professor and marijuana arrest expert Harry Levine.

drug arrest scene, "10 Rules for Dealing with Police,"
Although New York state decriminalized marijuana possession in the 1970s, the NYPD has made it a practice to stop and frisk people by the hundreds of thousands a year and demand that they empty their pockets. When they produce marijuana from their pockets, they are then charged with public possession -- possession in plain view -- a misdemeanor.

The NYPD is arresting about a thousand pot smokers a week and has busted more than 350,000 of them during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tenure in office. This is the same Mayor Bloomberg who once said he smoked marijuana and like it.

Bloomberg's and the NYPD's mass arrest policies cost the city big bucks in a time of economic difficulty. With Levine and his co-author Loren Siegel estimating the cost of arresting and prosecuting each pot possession offender at between $1,000 and $2,000, New York City has spent somewhere between $350 million and $700 million to persecute pot people since Bloomberg has been in office.

"More people have been arrested for marijuana possession under Mayor Bloomberg than under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Guiliani combined," said Levine at a City Hall news conference Tuesday. "These arrests are wildly expensive, do not improve public safety, and create permanent criminal records which seriously damage the life chances of the young people targeted and jailed," Levine said.

"Upwards of $75 million have been used to arrest NYC residents for marijuana possession that could have legally been handled with a summons and not a criminal offense," said City Council Member Jumaane Willimas. "This, as we are debating closing our senior centers. In addition, 86% of those arrests are young children of more color. I don't believe that this represents the percentage of people who take the occasional 'pull.'  It does however better reflect the communities abused by the current stop and frisk policies. Had this been 86% of our young children of a lighter shade, there would be uproar. I believe there still should be. All of our children are gifts to be nurtured; yet we are losing them to the system at an alarming rate. There must be a better way to deal with drugs in New York City. These arrests are simply about boosting arrest numbers and aren't the answer to our problems," said Williams.

"It is clear that the NYPD's current policy of giving high arrest priority to marijuana enforcement is fiscally wasteful, and has a greater impact on low-income communities where the 'war-on-drugs' has been primarily focused," said Council Member Letitia James. "Although African-Americans only constitute 13% of national of drug users, they make up 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those convicted of drug offenses. It is fair to say that the high priority given to marijuana enforcement directly relates to racial profiling in New York."

"The consequences of an arrest are severe, especially for young people of color who are already disproportionately arrested and incarcerated in juvenile facilities," said Kyung Ji Rhee, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. "Young people of color are targeted, illegally searched and being put through the criminal justice system for possessing or smoking marijuana. Whatever your opinion may be on marijuana, this is no way to treat or teach young people about the choices they make."

"It is beyond hypocritical for the Mayor, who once said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, to make arresting young people of color for marijuana possession his top law enforcement priority," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "While cutting services for seniors, youth, housing, transportation, teachers, education, and more, the Mayor spent S75 million last year to arrest over 50,000 people for marijuana possession -- which isn’t even a crime under NY State law. It's just outrageous."

Will Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD see the light? Not without some political heat -- stay tuned.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


TJ (not verified)

Well it seems to be that if an officer asks you to empty your pocket you just say no. I am pretty sure you don't have to empty your pocket if asked. But then again i am in California the law might be different in New York. These seems like the police are setting you up to break the law which is something the police shouldn't be doing. The Mayor is another idiot republican who like almost all other republicans is a hypocrite. There is no reason to being arresting people when its supposedly decriminalized. Really though these is preaching to the choir and pretty pointless. We should be posting these on anti-drug website so people can become more educated.

Tue, 03/15/2011 - 7:47pm Permalink
Anonymous2 (not verified)

I would believe any law requiring you to do so in any state would be in direct violation of the 4th amendment, TJ.

Tue, 03/15/2011 - 7:57pm Permalink
Fred Lazarus (not verified)

While Bloomberg lays off teachers and closes firehouses because of lack of funds

he has the funds to arrest and prosecute Marijuana smokers.

What a true jerk!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thu, 03/17/2011 - 3:04pm Permalink
Steve Newcomb (not verified)

Things are done by governments for reasons.  Sometimes it's hard to say what the reasons are, and they may not be very good reasons, but there are reasons nonetheless.  The least hypothesis is that, for some reason, the Mayor wants to support the artificially high price of marijuana in NYC.  But why?  He certainly doesn't need money, so allegations of wrongdoing by the Mayor are harder to explain than that.  Nevertheless the wrongdoing goes on, and it demands explanation.  Obviously, the situation is complicated by factors other than Bloomberg's profit motive.  In fact, I bet his profit motive has little or nothing to do with this.  And I very much doubt he's quite as much of a jerk as this matter makes him appear to be.

There's a plot twist useful for the author of a police drama somewhere in this.

Thu, 03/17/2011 - 3:24pm Permalink
Anna (not verified)

yeah just say no when the policeman asks you to empty yer pockets and say: do you have a search warrant?

then depending on what he or she says make your next decision; best best is...carry weed in your undies...a.

Thu, 03/17/2011 - 8:37pm Permalink
maxwood (not verified)

The critique of James, Levine et al. is on target.  But why would Bloomberg continue to blow so much money blowing so many youngsters, especially minorities, out of eligibility to contribute to society, years after having heard comments like these before?   TJ makes the point that the mayor is a republican. But James St. John argues, I think less plausibly, that he is a liberal at heart.

1.  The Republican Party is handmonster of the Tobacco Industry and carries out its vendetta against cannabis which threatens to destroy the industry profit margin: (1) access to marijuana will enable unknown, potential large numbers of $lave $igarette addicts to quit nicotine products altogether, or-- MORE THREATENING-- (2) the sight of cannabis users using a VAPORIZER or low temperature MINIATURE PIPE with impunity instead of rolling the easy-to-hide joint could cause VIRTUALLY ALL inhalant nicotine addicts to switch forever from genocidal high profit $igarette format to LOW PROFIT downdosage forms like vaporizer and one-hitter.  (You can serve a 25-mg. toke instead of lighting up a 700-mg. Squeah every time you want "a smoke".)  Put it another way: Big 2WackGo hires the Republican Party to pass police state laws against cannabis to protect hot burning overdose $igarette oligarchy.

2.  But-- the Bloomberg Enigma--  this same Mike Bloomberg does not present himself as a friend of tobacckgo, in fact, he put up his own money a couple of years ago to join Bill Gates in a $500-million anti-tobacco program.  Sounds like a Good Liberal.  But-- doesn't he realize letting kids mess with marijuana might save millions from getting hooked on 44%-likely lifeshortening nicotine $igarettes?

3.  Perhaps we are misreading the arrest figure progression presented in the article-- yes, Bloomberg has had many more arrested than Giuliani, but the huge RISE in arrests yearly occurred under Giuliani, and Bloomberg just maintained the rate he inherited.

4.  What if Bloomberg decided to run for President?  In the 2008 Primaries, Big 2WackGo gave more campaign money to "Crack Down on Pot" Giuliani than any other candidate.

5.  Maybe it's the TAXES-- tobacckgo $igarette taxe$ are very high in New York City; the City needs the money; but once you take it you henceforth have to be nice to Big 2WackGo......

6.  @ Steve Newcomb's point about the ARTIFICIALLY HIGH PRICES OF MARIJUANA IN NYC is very apt: children have someone they can buy weed from and someone else they can buy $igarettes from; THE PRICE DISPARITY alone drives many youngsters, who MUST--  for social prestige reasons and not to be picked on and beat up-- "socially" SMOKE SOMETHING, to pass up the marijuana and buy the $lave nicotine genocide instead!!  How about that, Mr. Mayor?

7.  Davesnot's coverage is useful and well charged up-- but one PR suggestion please-- DON'T say things like "us, the dope smokers" which plays into the hands of the assholes.  (Dope is carbon monoxide.)  Get familiar with a vaporizer and study up on worldwide Wikipedia lingo-- CANNABIS USERS. 

Thu, 03/17/2011 - 10:27pm Permalink

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