New York Police Announce End to Minor Marijuana Possession Arrests

Thursday, November 13, 2014
Demonstration outside New York City Hall (photo: Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

After arresting more than half a million individuals, most of them minorities, for marijuana possession, the New York Police Department will stop putting people in jail for possessing small amounts of the drug. Instead, citations will be issued for such violations.


Beginning during the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, police spent considerable time arresting New Yorkers, particularly Hispanics and blacks, for pot. There were 586,320 such arrests between 1996 and 2011. All came even though the state of New York decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977. The law exempted pot that was in “public view,” and when police searched a suspect and brought the marijuana into the open, the suspect was often arrested.


During the first eight months of 2014, blacks and Hispanics made up 86% of the low-level marijuana possession busts. However, the two groups make up only 60% of the city’s population and whites have been shown to have higher rates of marijuana use.


“To the extent the police department continues to disproportionately enforce the law in black and Latino communities, any administrative change on minor marijuana possession will constitute window-dressing in the name of reform. The policy must be accompanied by the NYPD’s willingness to treat everyone equally,” U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) told The Huffington Post.


Critics of the policy hailed the decision by Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop throwing people in jail for small amounts of the drug.


“Large-scale marijuana arrests have swept hundreds of thousands of people, mostly African Americans and Latinos, into the criminal justice system with no apparent public safety benefit,” Alba Morales, criminal justice researcher at Human Rights Watch, said. “The policy change on marijuana arrests is a step in the right direction, though any criminalization of drug possession for personal use remains problematic.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff

To Learn More:

New York: Curbing Marijuana Arrests (Human Rights Watch)

Ending New York City’s Low-Level Marijuana Arrests Doesn’t Fix the Problem (by Christopher Mathias, Huffington Post)

Marijuana May Mean Ticket, Not Arrest, in New York City (by Joseph Goldstein, New York Times)

Only 3% of 2.4 Million Stop-and-Frisk Incidents in New York Led to Convictions (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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