New data obtained from public records requests by marijuana.com found large racial disparities in marijuana arrests, even as law enforcement priorities shift. The numbers echo previous findings that decriminalization (and even legalization) do little to combat racial disparities when enforcing cannabis laws.
Out of the 25 states where data was collected, New York had the largest racial disparity. Black New Yorkers are 13 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession.
“The bulk of arrests in New York State occur in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan boroughs that make up New York City,” reported marijuana.com.
In 2014, the NYPD announced a new policy of not arresting people for low-level cannabis possession of 25 grams or less. The move followed former Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson’s decision to stop prosecuting low-level marijuana cases. Marijuana arrests dropped 56 percent from 2014 to 2015.
But then, cannabis arrests shot back up. The first half of 2016 saw cannabis arrests increase by 30 percent compared to the previous year.
Data from all over the country has shown that racial equity does not follow policy reform. In Colorado, marijuana arrests for black and Latino teens actually went up after medical marijuana was legalized. A report from the state found that arrests of white adolescents 10- to 17-years-old decreased by eight percent from 2012 to 2014, while arrests of black and Latino teens went up 58 percent and 29 percent, respectively.
Chicago saw marijuana arrests decrease 21 percent after the city decriminalized cannabis possession in 2012. But racial disparities remained, with arrests increasing in some minority-dominant neighborhoods.
That’s not to say drug policy reform can’t have a positive impact on communities of color. Cannabis arrests have plummeted since Colorado introduced its adult-use market. Though the state still sees racial disparities in marijuana arrests, fewer people are spending time behind bars for pot.
It’s unclear why marijuana arrests in New York have gone up in 2016 after dropping the previous year. But former police commissioner Bill Bratton stepped down from his post in September. He notably blamed marijuana for a spike in murders last year, criticizing legalization efforts in other parts of the country.
Bratton is succeeded by James O’Neill, who has described stop and frisk as a “debacle.” We’ll see if the new leadership does anything to change the NYPD’s practices of cannabis arrests.
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