The Cost of NYC’s Marijuana Possession Arrests in 2010: $75 Million

Press Release March 14, 2011
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Gabriel Sayegh at 646-335-2264</p>

NEW YORK: A new report released today at City Hall finds that arrests for marijuana possession cost New York City taxpayers approximately $75 million each year. The report, titled "$75 Million A Year", documents the astronomical financial costs of marijuana possession arrests in New York City. Major findings from the report include:

The new report – among the first of its kind to quantify the costs of low-level marijuana possession arrests – was written by Dr. Harry Levine and Loren Siegel, JD, and outlines the financial and human costs of marijuana arrests in New York City. The report was released today at a City Hall press conference with NYC Council Member Letitia James, Council Member Jumanne Williams and Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito; Dr. Levine, Chino Hardin of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reforms and Alternatives; Howard Josepher from Exponents, a NYC-based drug treatment center; members of the Drug Policy Alliance and VOCAL-NY, and community members directly impacted by this issue.
"More people have been arrested for marijuana possession under Mayor Bloomberg than under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Guiliani combined," said report co- author Dr. Harry Levine, a sociology professor at City University of New York and a national expert on marijuana arrests. "These arrests are wildly expensive, do not improve public safety, and create permanent criminal records which seriously damage the life chances of the young people targeted and jailed," Levine said.

Low-level marijuana possession offenses (NY State Penal Law 221.10) are the number one arrest in New York City. The NYPD makes nearly a thousand arrests and jailings a week for simple marijuana possession — one of every seven arrests, and nearly 350,000 marijuana possession arrests since Bloomberg became mayor. At $1,000 – $2,000 per arrest, this "marijuana arrest crusade" costs $75 million or more dollars a year.
"Upwards of 75 million dollars have been used to arrest NYC residents for marijuana possession that could have legally been handled with a summons and not a criminal offense. This, as we are debating closing our senior centers. In addition, 86% of those arrests are young children of more color. I don't believe that this represents the percentage of people who take the occasional "pull." It does however better reflect the communities abused by the current stop and frisk policies. Had this been 86% of our young children of a lighter shade, there would be uproar. I believe there still should be. All of our children are gifts to be nurtured; yet we are losing them to the system at an alarming rate. There must be a better way to deal with drugs in New York City. These arrests are simply about boosting arrest numbers and aren 't the answer to our problems," said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams.
"It is clear that the NYPD 's current policy of giving high arrest priority to marijuana enforcement is fiscally wasteful, and has a greater impact on low-income communities where the ‘war-on-drugs ' has been primarily focused," said Council Member Letitia James. "Although African-Americans only constitute 13% of national of drug users, they make up 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those convicted of drug offenses. It is fair to say that the high priority given to marijuana enforcement directly relates to racial profiling in New York."
Many New Yorkers don 't know that the state decriminalized marijuana possession over thirty years ago – and that law is still on the books. The Legislature passed the Marihuana Reform Act of 1977, finding that "arrests, criminal prosecutions and criminal penalties are inappropriate for people who possess small quantities of marihuana (sic) for personal use." Possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana (about 7/8 of an ounce) was decriminalized – that is, it was made a violation; a first offense punishable by a $100 fine, not arrest and jail.
Research finds that most people arrested for marijuana possession were not smoking in public, but simply had a small amount in a pocket and were tricked by the police to reveal it. Once it 's in "public view," the possession becomes a misdemeanor – criminal offense. Most of theses arrests are made this way. Over 70% of these arrests are of young people 16-29, most of them Black and Latino, even though studies show that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than blacks or Latinos.
"The consequences of an arrest are severe, especially for young people of color who are already disproportionally arrested and incarcerated in juvenile facilities," said Kyung Ji Rhee, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. "Young people of color are targeted, illegally searched and being put through the criminal justice system for possessing or smoking marijuana. Whatever your opinion may be on marijuana, this is no way to treat or teach young people about the choices they make."
The new report on costs comes at a time when communities are facing deep cuts to essential social and human services in both the City and State budget. In a fact sheet released with the report, over 30 NYC based organizations identified how they think the City should spend $75 million instead of arresting young people of color for marijuana possession.
"It is beyond hypocritical for the Mayor, who once said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, to make arresting young people of color for marijuana possession his top law enforcement priority," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "While cutting services for seniors, youth, housing, transportation, teachers, education, and more, the Mayor spent 75 million dollars last year to arrest over 50,000 people for marijuana possession – which isn 't even a crime under NY State law. It 's just outrageous."
A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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