Tale of Two New Yorks Endures under de Blasio as NYPD Continues Discriminatory Marijuana Arrests

Press Release July 10, 2017
Media Contact

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<p>Kassandra Frederique (646) 209-0374<br />
Tony Newman (646) 335-538</p>

New York, NY: A new report released today by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, shows that marijuana possession arrests under Mayor de Blasio continue to be marked by extremely high racial disparities, as was the case under the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations.

The report, Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York, shows that despite a change in mayoral administrations and police commissioners, the NYPD continues to make large numbers of unjust and racially-targeted marijuana arrests. The report is based on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Despite Mayor de Blasio’s campaign promise to end racially-biased policing, in 2016 marijuana possession was New York City’s fourth most commonly charged criminal offense. Black and Latino New Yorkers continue to comprise 85 percent of the more than 60,000 people arrested for low-level marijuana possession on Mayor de Blasio’s watch. Most people arrested are young Blacks and Latinos – even though studies consistently show young whites use marijuana at higher rates.

"President Obama, Governor Cuomo, former Mayor Ed Koch and candidate Bill de Blasio all strongly criticized the NYPD's racist marijuana possession arrests,” said report author and Queens College professor Harry Levine. “Yet the most progressive mayor in the modern history of New York is unable to stop them? Really?"

Key findings include the following:

The report demonstrates how police precincts throughout the city have different enforcement policies and practices when it comes to lowest level marijuana arrests by comparing the rates in different neighborhoods. For example, the Upper East Side, covered by Precinct 19, is the second most populous precinct in the city, with over 200,000 residents. It has one of the highest family incomes, and is 80 percent white. In 2016 only 14 out of the 18,121 marijuana arrests were made in this precinct—four Blacks, three Latinos and seven whites—resulting in an arrest rate of 6 per 100,000 residents.  Just 20 blocks north of the Upper East Side is East Harlem (El Barrio) covered by Precinct 25. Eighty-eight percent of this neighborhoods residents are Black or Latino. In 2016, the officers in this precinct made 492 of the lowest level marijuana possession arrests, yielding an arrest rate of 1,038 per hundred thousand, the second highest in the city. The report also compares the predominantly white Upper West Side with its 51 arrests in 2016 (41 of them Blacks and Latinos) with the predominantly Black and Latino West Harlem with its 677 arrests.

The report concludes that the only way to end these racially discriminatory arrests is by stopping them entirely: “We strongly recommend that police and district attorneys in the five boroughs of New York City immediately cease arresting, charging and prosecuting anyone for violation of New York State Criminal Law section 221.10, part 1.”

Efforts to end the marijuana arrest crusade in New York continue to build. In Albany, where reform proposals have been debated for years, Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes introduced the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), a bill that would establish a legal market for marijuana in New York. The bill would effectively end marijuana prohibition in New York State – and address the persistent, unwarranted racial disparities associated with the practice – and create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol for adults over the age of 21. The MRTA is supported by the Start SMART NY campaign – Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade – which is comprised of organizations and advocates dedicated to criminal justice reform, civil rights, public health, and community-based organizing.

“Prohibition has played a significant role in devastating low-income communities of color through racially biased enforcement and has often come with steep collateral consequences. We believe it’s time for a new approach and that approach shouldn’t involve criminalizing New York’s most vulnerable populations,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director of VOCAL-NY.

“It is time that New York joins the cadre of progressive states that are acting smart on marijuana regulation. New York City was for many years the marijuana arrest capital of the world and the devastation that wreaked on people of color and marginalized communities cannot be overstated. We need to pivot and address the pressing needs of regulation while simultaneously eliminating the criminal consequences of marijuana possession and restoring the previous harms that prohibitionist modalities created. In short, we need New York State to help lead a marijuana revolution, because it’s just, it’s rational, and it’s time,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“Similar to fare evasion arrests and other low-level offenses, the NYPD is racially profiling and handcuffing black and brown New Yorkers for marijuana possession at a disproportionate rate that has not changed in thirty years. Mayor de Blasio promised to boldly address these disparities that have historically marginalized communities of color. It’s disappointing that the status quo remains well into his tenure at City Hall. Not only do these criminal charges carry their own set of destructive collateral consequences but could now result in immediate removal proceedings with ICE,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney, Criminal Justice Unit, Legal Aid Society.

“The DPA findings are a powerful indictment of the system, but unfortunately not at all surprising for us frontline public defenders. This is not only a policing problem. It is also a prosecution problem. By continuing to prosecute marijuana arrests, District Attorneys and their line prosecutors are choosing to rubberstamp, knowingly, the racially disparate and damaging practices of the NYPD,” said Scott R. Hechinger, Senior Staff Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services. “District Attorneys can and must send a message to the NYPD and decline to prosecute these discriminatory and unnecessary marijuana arrests.”

“New York’s marijuana arrest crusade has resulted in significant harms for those who are most vulnerable and has been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color. Over the last 20 years, more than 700,000 lives were irrevocably damaged by New York City’s draconian marijuana arrest policies. As New York finally sheds its embarrassing distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world, we must repair the harms of prohibition and end the biased policing practices that have ruined the lives of so many young Black and Latino New Yorkers,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “There is no excuse for the New York City marijuana arrests to continue at this level in 2017. Mayor de Blasio pledged to end biased policing practices—if the end looks like more than 61,000 arrests on his watch and the same level of severe racial disparities, then the Mayor has failed to carry out his campaign promises to Black New Yorkers.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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