NYC Pot Arrests Continue to Surge

By McCarton Ackerman 02/02/12

Despite the high cost of prosecution—and a recent NYPD directive—more New Yorkers are arrested for marijuana-related infractions than for any other crime.

Protests against police tactics last year.
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As efforts to legalize pot have increased throughout the country, marijuana-related arrests in many major American cities have significantly declined. But New York City remains a notable exception. In fact, more people were arrested in the city for marijuana possession last year than for any other crime.Though NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced last September that marijuana arrests would no longer be a top department priority,  recent statistics reveal that 50,700 New Yorkers were arrested for marijuana possession in 2011, up from 50,400 in 2010. While state law stipulates that police may only arrest suspects if they are carrying pot in open view, many police officers have been accused of booking people after conducting random "stop-and-frisks," or ordering them to empty their pockets. "If you [carry the drug] in plain sight, then it is a misdemeanor," Kelly asserts. "If you're directed by an officer to take it out of your pocket, that's not the intent of the law. That's what my directive was meant to address. It's very difficult to quantify whether or not that was happening." Queens College sociologist Harry Levine estimates that prosecuting marijuana offender cost the city $75 million in 2011—about $1,500 for every person arrested. "New York remains in a fiscal crisis, and we simply cannot afford to arrest tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens for possessing small amounts of marijuana—especially when so many of these arrests are the result of illegal searches or false charges," says Senator Mark Grisanti.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.