New York City’s overzealous pursuit of marijuana possession arrests has been well documented. The New York Civil Liberties Union notes “New York City now arrests and jails more people for possessing marijuana than any city in the United States, and more than any city in the world.” In fact, more than 350,000 low-level marijuana possession arrests have been made since 2002.
While the sheer number of arrests is staggering, the racial inequity is undeniable. Nearly 90 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in New York City are black or Latino.
Last week City Council members staged a protest at City Hall to draw attention to the “racially biased” arrests and to introduce a resolution to the current law that could help stem NYC’s unprecedented pot busts.
As The New York Times points out, possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana is a civil violation in New York. However, when pot is not concealed it becomes a criminal offense – even if the drug is only brought into the open after an officer asks a suspect to empty his pockets.
Council members hope to close this legal loophole by reclassifying “the public display of small amounts of marijuana as a violation.”
Councilman Jumaane Williams believes the city’s unprecedented minor marijuana possession arrests waste “hundreds of hours of manpower” and cost the city “$75 million a year.” State assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries called for a stop to the “significant racial disparity,” saying, “It’s unjust, it’s undemocratic, it’s unreasonable and it’s unconscionable.”
This disparity has been well documented by a number of organizations and sources. Last year the New York Times crunched the numbers and discovered that residents of Brownsville, Brooklyn, a low-income and predominantly non-white neighborhood, were 150 times more likely to get arrested on marijuana possession charges than residents of the affluent, overwhelmingly white Upper East Side neighborhood, where Mayor Bloomberg resides.
Additionally, the top ten precincts for pot arrests were in neighborhoods where the population is generally 90 percent or more nonwhite.