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NYC Marijuana Arrests Still Too High

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February 2, 2012

The New York City Police Department made a near-record number of low-level marijuana arrests in 2011, surpassing 2010 and making 2011 the second-most prolific period for marijuana arrests in NYC history. The 50,684 arrest occurred despite the fact that possessing a small amount of marijuana is not a crime in New York unless it is in public view.

As Jen Carnig of the New York Civil Liberties Union has written before on this blog, NYPD officers have made a practice of arresting people for carrying small amounts of marijuana in their pockets or bags by ordering, tricking or forcing them into exposing it and then arresting them for having the marijuana in open sight.

It’s an unlawful practice that disproportionately targets young men of color: 86 percent of people arrested for marijuana possession in New York City are black or Latino, even though these groups make up only a quarter of the city’s population, and even though government surveys consistently show that young whites use marijuana more often than young blacks and Latinos. The arrests can result in permanent criminal records; loss of student financial aid, child custody or and public housing; deportation; and other consequences.

While such unlawful arrests dropped 13 percent following a recent directive by Police Chief Raymond Kelley to end the practice, an increase in arrests in the first part of the year was more than enough to offset the decline. In Carnig’s words, “It’s too early to judge whether the 13 percent drop will be sustained, or if it is just a blip before the numbers surge again. But the marijuana arrest habit is so deeply ingrained, that it’s unlikely that a single policy directive, without additional training or changes in supervision, will force long-term change.”

Let’s hope 2012 proves fairer than 2011.

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