Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Notable new data on marijuana arrests in NYC

This new press report, headlined "Still Too High? Marijuana Arrests Barely Budge in NYC," reports on the latest data on marijuana arrests in our nation's biggest city. Here are the details:

Police data obtained by WNYC shows that 16,925 people were arrested last year for low-level marijuana possession and smoking in public. That's a decline of only 1 percentage point from the previous year's total of 17,097.

Public defenders and drug reform advocates said that's disappointing because the mayor said he would cut down on arrests after taking office in 2014. "What these numbers show is that that war has not ended and that crusade is still going on," said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director at the Drug Policy Alliance. She added that "marijuana arrests are still something that NYPD is continuing to use as a way to disrupt communities."

Frederique, who advocates for the legalization of marijuana, has previously cited statistics showing arrests are far more prevalent in low-income communities of color than in more affluent neighborhoods that are largely white. "The city’s progress reducing low-level marijuana arrests has clearly slowed," said Redmond Haskins, spokesperson at The Legal Aid Society. Citing data from Legal Aid's own low-income clients across the city, he said, "there was basically no statistical change in low-level marijuana arrests" since 2016....

De Blasio had asked police to issues more summonses for the lowest amount of possession (25 grams or less). A summons results in a $100 ticket on the first offense instead of a misdemeanor, though the individual still has to go to summons court. In 2017, summonses went up slightly to 21,024 compared to 20,717 in 2016.

Mayoral spokesman Austin Finan said, "What’s important is the broader trend that shows a dramatic shift away from arrests in favor of summonses since 2013, proving this administration’s commitment to enhancing fairness without sacrificing safety or responsiveness to community concerns." He said the total number of low-level marijuana arrests dropped by 38 percent since 2013. There was also a 58 percent increase in summonses.

Queens Councilman Rory Lancman, who chairs the justice committee, also expressed disappointment that arrests hadn't declined more in the last year. "We need clarity to determine if this policy is sufficient and what changes must be made," he said. "In 2014 the Mayor pledged to fundamentally change the City’s criminal justice policy by treating most low-level marijuana possession as a violation instead of a misdemeanor. However, these numbers indicate that the policy is not having the impact we hoped and too many individuals still wind up in the criminal justice system, draining District Attorneys' resources and clogging our courts."

Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink


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