New York City has tried to reduce the penalties for getting caught with weed. Despite this, there remain some troubling trends in how the city enforces cannabis laws. With the NYPD facing criticism for racial disparity in marijuana arrests, city policymakers are returning to important conversations about race, cannabis, and law enforcement.
Council Members Call Out NYPD
In 2013, NYC Mayor de Blasio ordered a change to the way NYPD enforced weed laws. Under the order, cops are supposed to give a summons to the huge majority of people caught with weed instead of arresting them.
Since then, the city has seen a 40 percent drop in marijuana arrests. But there are still some obvious problems
At a hearing earlier today, City Council members criticized the NYPD for huge racial disparities in marijuana arrests. According to New York Daily News, there were roughly 17,500 arrests last year for marijuana possession. A full 86 percent of those arrested were black and Latinx.
“The racial disparities have not changed one bit, and arrests are still too common in communities of color,” said Councilman Donovan Richards. “If the administration is serious about changing this disparity, we’re not seeing it.”
NYPD officials acknowledged that the stats do point to racial inequities. But they also said that officers were not doing anything wrong. Instead, NYPD authorities said that cops were simply responding to the neighborhoods where they get the most complaints.
“Where the arrests are made, I believe, are where the complaints are,” said Dermot Shea, NYPD’s chief of crime control strategies.
But that explanation did not satisfy many Council Members. In fact, several of them pushed the NYPD on the issue. Ultimately, NYPD representatives were unable to produce any statistics backing up their claim.
“I refuse to believe that in New York City, a city of eight and a half million, that the only individuals calling 911 or 311 on this issue are people in communities in color,” said Richards. “You can walk around City Hall these days, and walk through the park and you will smell marijuana being burned.”
Final Hit: NYPD Facing Criticism For Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests
The ongoing racial disparities in how the NYPD enforces weed laws are in line with national trends. Unfortunately, these trends have existed for decades. In fact, the ACLU published a comprehensive report on the subject a few years ago.
The organization found that white and black people consume cannabis at more or less the same levels. Despite this, black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.
Those numbers represent national trends. At the state level, the picture gets even worse. There are at least 15 states where the racial disparities are worse than the national average.
Fortunately, some lawmakers are trying to address these trends. Most recently, a group of Congresspeople introduced the Marijuana Justice Act to the House of Representatives. The bill is the House version of a similar bill introduced to the Senate last fall by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
The Marijuana Justice Bill calls for the legalization of cannabis at the federal level. But it also goes much further.
The bill proposes expunging all weed-related convictions from people’s records. Additionally, it proposes earmarking funds for educational programs.
These programs would be centered primarily in communities that have been especially hard hit by the war on drugs.