Blog Post

NYPD Commissioner Bratton's Flawed Stance on Marijuana Enforcement

Chris Alexander

In the last week, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton has been in the news twice because of his flawed stance on marijuana enforcement.

The attention stems from Bratton’s crediting of marijuana with rising violence in communities – an opinion that is both wrong and proven to be detrimental for people of color.

Bratton posed the question as to why certain states or jurisdictions were becoming more lax with their marijuana laws when he believes marijuana to be one of the drivers of violence in New York City.

The case for ending prohibition to most of us (57% of Americans according to a 2015 Gallop poll) is clear, it has been wasteful, inefficient, and it has been disproportionately enforced on people of color by police departments across the country – none more so than Bratton’s own NYPD.

Contrary to Bratton’s opinion, prohibition has only been successful in creating violence – not curbing it.

As of now, four states and the District of Colombia have legalized marijuana for recreational use – a number likely to change after this November. In most of those states, the illicit market share (and the violence associated) of the now booming marijuana industry has been drastically reduced due to reasonable access for adults to the country’s most widely used federally illicit substance.

However, overall crime rates in a state like Colorado, who legalized marijuana in 2012 and began allowing access to recreational marijuana in 2014, have simply fluctuated, going down the first year and rising the second.

To those of us who, unlike Commissioner Bratton, understand causation and correlation; it is evident from what we have seen in the states that have legalized marijuana, that marijuana, itself, cannot be the cause of that violence.

It is prohibition that is the problem.

Perhaps an example that would more readily illustrate the definitions of causation and correlation is the effect of a marijuana arrest for simple possession of marijuana in New York City on the life of a young person of color. Limited access to education, removal from public housing, limited access to loans and lines of credit, and of course restricted opportunities for employment are just a few of the direct results that a marijuana conviction can have on someone’s life.

Despite knowing these collateral consequences and how hard they are to overcome, marijuana arrests continue in New York City. Despite even, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton’s own orders of 2014 to ticket instead of making arrests, marijuana arrests continue.

Despite knowing that black and Latino New Yorker’s made up 86% of these arrests over the last 20 years, marijuana arrests continue. Despite those same black and Latino New Yorkers making up 88% of the arrests made last year, marijuana arrests continue.

And despite knowing that marijuana use has remained consistent across communities (both black and white) over the last 30 years, these arrests continue.

Violence is an issue that everyone wants to solve, yet scapegoating marijuana for community violence is not the way to solve it. The outdated ideology that Commissioner Bratton displays is the same approach we’ve been taking for the last 40 years, and the fact that he can continue to hold that position even after being told why the war on drugs and the war on marijuana was started and who its targets were is even more outrageous.

Chris Alexander is the New York policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Photo via Policy Exchange

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