Pot Report Sparks War of Words Between New York Mayor & Drug Policy Alliance

By Keri Blakinger 08/07/17

Racial disparity in the city's pot arrests is at the root of the squabble between the mayor and the DPA.

Mayor Bill de Blasio
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

A war of words has broken out between the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

The low-key sparring over a DPA report on racial divides in the city’s marijuana arrests has spilled out into the public realm through a pair of dueling press releases. 

“It’s time for the mayor to get out of the spin cycle and back to work,” DPA New York State Director Kassandra Frederique admonished Friday. 

The squabble kicked off in July when the Marijuana Arrest Research Project released the DPA-commissioned report titled “Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York.”

The report used data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to show that the NYPD has continued to make large numbers of pot busts that appear racially targeted, despite the change in mayors and police commissioners. Under the de Blasio administration as well as the two before it, more than 85% of New Yorkers hit with low-level pot arrests were Black or Latino, the DPA found. 

Despite a dip in pot arrests since Michael Bloomberg’s mayoralty, the report showed that the first three years of de Blasio’s New York averaged about three times as many arrests per day as during the Giuliani administration’s first three years.

The startling statistics even sparked a critical New York Times editorial

“These arrests have virtually no public safety benefit and can cause lasting damage to people who often have had no other contact with the criminal justice system,” the Times wrote. 

“The city needs to do more to minimize arrests.”

The mayor’s office fired back, highlighting a major improvement in the city’s response to marijuana use. In 2014, the city instituted a new policy ordering officers to issue a summons instead of making an arrest for possession of less than 25 grams of pot. 

“As a result of this new policy, arrests for marijuana possession are down 37% — from almost 29,000 in 2013 to approximately 18,000 in 2016,” the release said in a statement emphasized in bold. “This has translated into approximately 9,600 fewer arrests of Black and Latino New Yorkers for marijuana possession in 2016 as compared to 2013.”

But the report by the DPA, which was called “a group committed to legalization" by the mayor’s office, "ignores these changes and the resulting reductions in marijuana possession arrests of Black and Latino New Yorkers,” the city claimed. 

“The Drug Policy Alliance report cherry picks data to inappropriately compare arrests during the first three years of de Blasio Administration to the first three years of the Giuliani era,” the mayor’s office pouted.

The DPA’s Friday release pushed back against those accusations.

“Mayor de Blasio is not disputing the data published in our report, he is trying to spin his poor record to look as though he has made some progress,” Frederique said in a statement. “In reality, New York City was the marijuana arrest capital of the world under Bloomberg and still holds that dubious title under de Blasio today. The 18,000 arrests in 2016 alone and outrageous racial disparities are a disgrace to the city and a blight on the mayor’s record. The unjust and racially-targeted arrests are devastating Black and Latino communities across the city.”

Frederique went on to denounce “the mayor’s efforts to discredit the report and the Drug Policy Alliance by calling us legalizers,” dubbing it “a desperate attempt to distract the public from the facts of his abysmal record.”

She concluded by calling on the mayor to fix biased policing practices.

“Rather than attack his critics,” she wrote, “the mayor should attack the problem of racially-targeted arrests.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.