You can officially call New York City the “Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World,” according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance. Not only do low-level pot possession offenses make up the number one reason for arrest in the city, 86 percent of those arrested are black or Latino. The overwhelming majority are people under the age of 30. In 2010, 50,383 people were arrested for low-level marijuana offenses.
In 2005, just 29,752 people were arrested for similar offenses, the Drug Policy Alliance says, adding that marijuana use hasn’t increased. Rather, the “dramatic rise” in arrests is due to a shift in policy within the NYPD to prioritize low-level drug offenses. The city is going on the sixth consecutive year of increases in arrests for pot possession.
“The NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg are waging a war on young blacks and Latinos in New York,” said Kyung Ji Rhee, director of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reforms and Alternatives, in a statement. “These 50,000 arrests for small amounts of marijuana can have devastating consequences for New Yorkers and their families, including: permanent criminal records, loss of financial aid, possible loss of child custody, loss of public housing and a host of other collateral damage. It’s not a coincidence that the neighborhoods with high marijuana arrests are the same neighborhoods with high stop-and-frisks and high juvenile arrests.”
It’s not just that these mass arrests cripple black and Latino communities. Blacks are not more likely than whites, and in fact as of 1994 were less likely than whites to be past or current users of drugs. A more recent 2009 study from the Department of Health and Human Services pins drug use among black, white, Latino and Native American communities around a very close range, all are around seven to 10 percent. And yet the disparities in arrests are vast.
If ever a person needed more salient proof of systemic inequities in criminal justice system, these numbers seem to provide it.