NYC Cannabis Arrests on the Decline, Still Disproportionally Target Minorities

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According to data from the Legal Aid Society, New York City’s primary public defender organization, cannabis arrests in the five boroughs are down 3.9 percent since the beginning of 2016; however the law enforcement tactic of broken windows policing is resulting in those that are arrested coming predominantly from minority communities, the Gothamist reports. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed for low-level cannabis crimes to be handled with violations and tickets, rather than misdemeanor or felonies and arrests.

In the first year following the policy shift, low-level cannabis arrests actually increased by 30 percent, according to figures from the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services – and white people made up less than 10 percent of those arrests.

The Legal Aid Society has handled 5,934 misdemeanor and violation-level cannabis cases since Jan 1., compared to 6,180 during the same period last year.

Harry Levine, a Queens College professor and one of the co-authors of a Drug Policy Alliance report titled “Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York” said their research found there is “one set of laws for white people, one set of laws for people of color.”

The DPA report found among the 60,000 people arrested for cannabis possession in New York City from 2014 to 2016 86 percent, or 52,730, were black and Latino, while 14 percent, 8,260, were “whites and all others.” New York City’s population is 51 percent black and Latino, and 49 percent white and all others.

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Austin Finan, a spokesman for the mayor, said that the Legal Aid Society figures show that the administration’s decriminalization plans are, in fact, working.

“Just as we said we would, this administration has led a dramatic shift away from unnecessary arrests for low-level marijuana offenses in favor of summonses,” Finan said in the report. “As a result, arrests for marijuana possession are down 37 [percent] — from almost 29,000 in 2013 to approximately 18,000 in 2016.”

Finan said that the contrast in arrests among minorities and whites was because the “NYPD enforces against quality of life offenses where and when they observed, many of which are reported to police by members of the public” but he did not comment on whether de Blasio sees the consequences of this type of enforcement as an issue.

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