Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has gotten a lot of criticism this week for his comments rejecting medical marijuana and suggesting that its advocates are actually stalking horses for marijuana legalization. But his antipathy for marijuana goes far beyond simply rejecting its therapeutic applications and opens a window into what a Giuliani marijuana policy might look like. During Giuliani's years in office in the 1990s and into this decade, the number of marijuana arrests shot through the roof, rising from a few hundred before Giulani took office to more than 51,000 in 2000. At that point, thanks to Giulani's "zero tolerance" or "broken windows" approach to policing, New York City accounted for nearly 10% of all marijuana arrests in the country. But it wasn't that Giulani just hated pot smokers; the results of his marijuana policy show starkly that his ire was aimed at pot smokers of a certain color--and it wasn't white. As an analysis of city pot arrests between the early 1980s and the early 2000s showed, as marijuana busts shot upward during Rudy's reign, the arrests shifted from the wealthy, central areas of the city to the cities poor, black and Hispanic neighborhoods. As the authors of that study noted, "these arrests, which increased throughout the 1990's to reach a peak of 51,000 in 2000, do not seem to be primarily serving the goals of 'quality-of-life' policing - which aims to penalize even minor criminal offenses in highly public locations - anymore." Not only did the mass marijuana arrests not appear to be related to claimed decreases in violent crime, they appeared to be related to increases in violent crime, according to another researcher, Bernard Harcourt, commenting on the report:
New York Cityâs psychedelic experiment with misdemeanor MPV [marijuana possession violation] arrestsâalong with all the associated detentions, convictions, and additional incarcerationsârepresents a tremendously expensive policing intervention. As Golub et al. [authors of the original research] document well, the focus on MPV has had a significant disparate impact on African-American and Hispanic residents. Our study further shows that there is no good evidence that it contributed to combating serious crime in the city. If anything, it has had the reverse effect. As a result, the NYPD policy of misdemeanor MPV arrests represents an extremely poor trade-off of scarce law enforcement resources, imposing significant opportunity costs on society in light of the growing body of empirical research that highlights policing approaches that do appear to be successful in reducing serious crime. Our findings, building on those of Golub et al., make clear that these are not trade-offs in which we should be engaging.So, not only did Giulani's mass marijuana arrest policy target racial minorities, it also hampered effective crime-fighting in the city. Can you imagine a President Giulani sitting in the White House and ordering something similar on a nationwide basis? It would certainly be a boon for the jail, drug testing, drug treatment, and other drug war-dependent industries, but I hope we are not at a point as a nation where we say "what's good for the prison-industrial complex is good for America." I'll be writing more about Giulani, his crime-fighting career, and what a Giulani presidency might mean for America's criminal justice system next week. But I have to wonder if what America needs now is a Prosecutor in Chief. (This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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