Racially Biased Pot Arrests Remain Same Under De Blasio

By Victoria Kim 10/23/14

After campaigning against racial profiling, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has actually amplified the "unjust" practice.

mayor de blasio 2013.jpg
Same as the old boss? Shutterstock

A report released this week by the Drug Policy Alliance has revealed that despite a campaign promise to curb marijuana possession arrests, not much has changed under the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In fact, slightly more marijuana arrests were made in March through August of this year than in the same six months in 2013 under de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Over this six-month period, 15,324 marijuana arrests were made under de Blasio in 2014, an increase from 14,847 marijuana arrests under Bloomberg in 2013.

Included in the report is an extensive analysis of marijuana arrest and income data, using data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Overall, “low income and middle class communities of color face dramatically higher rates of marijuana possession arrests than do white communities of every class bracket.”

In 2013, de Blasio called the New York Police Department’s systematic profiling of black and Latino men for marijuana possession “unjust and wrong.”

“Low-level marijuana possession arrests have disastrous consequences for individuals and their families. These arrests limit one’s ability to qualify for student financial aid and undermine one’s ability to find stable housing and good jobs. What’s more, recent studies demonstrate clear racial bias in arrests for low-level possession,” candidate de Blasio said in 2013. The NYPD’s practice of stop-and-frisk was a prominent subject during the mayoral race and de Blasio’s opposition to it propelled him to victory.

But the report confirms that despite de Blasio’s promise to end stop-and-frisk and curb marijuana arrests, the practice persists in New York City. In the first eight months of this year, 86% of the people arrested for marijuana possession were black and Latino. The NYPD continues to arrest blacks at seven times the rate of whites, and Latinos at almost four times the rate of whites. Most marijuana arrests are of young men of color, even though, the DPA notes, young white men use marijuana at higher rates.

The controversy behind stop-and-frisk and the resulting high rate of marijuana arrests, other than the clear practice of racial profiling, is that most people arrested for marijuana possession were not smoking it, but were instead searched (often illegally) or coerced by police to reveal marijuana that was hidden in their clothing, vehicle, or personal effects.

Under the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977, possessing up to 25 grams of marijuana is a citable offense similar to a traffic violation and is punishable by a fine up to $100. It is when marijuana is burning or is in public view that it becomes a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to three months in jail.

In 2011, former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued a directive reminding NYPD officers that “the public display of marihuana must be an activity undertaken of the subject’s own volition” and that the charge is not legally appropriate “if the marihuana recovered was disclosed to public view at an officer’s discretion.” Looking at the current data, it seems that Kelly’s memo was a mere formality, as it has not translated to even a modest decrease in low-level marijuana arrests.

“This is not a problem of training or supervision or rogue squads or bad apples. It’s a systemic problem, a form of institutional racism created and administered by people at the highest levels of law enforcement and government,” read an article published in The Nation in 2013, which was cited in the report.

The mayor offered to change what he himself called a policy of “disastrous consequences,” but since he took office on January 1, nothing has changed.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr