marijuana arrests

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 27, 2011

    [Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from this week’s forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML’s media alerts and legislative advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up here. To watch NORML’s weekly video summary of the week’s top stories, click here.]

    New York City police officers are to cease making misdemeanor marijuana arrests in cases where the contraband was not displayed in public view, according to an internal order issued late last week by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and reported by the New York Post.

    Although simple marijuana possession is a noncriminal violation in New York State, if the marijuana is ‘open to public view’ police can charge a suspect with a criminal misdemeanor.

    In 2010, city police made 50,383 lowest level marijuana possession arrests [NY State Penal Law 221.10] involving cases where marijuana was either used or possessed in public. The total was the second highest in the city’s history and was an increase of over 5,000 percent from 1990, when police reported fewer than 1,000 low-level pot arrests. Over 85 percent of those charged typically are either African American or Latino.

    However, an investigation in April by New York City public radio station WNYC questioned the legality of many of those arrested. It concluded that police routinely conduct warrantless ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches of civilians, find marijuana hidden on their persons, and then falsely charge them with possessing pot ‘open to public view.’

    The Commissioner’s new order stipulates that marijuana discovered during a police search is a violation punishable by a ticket only. The memo states that if the contraband ‘was disclosed to public view at an officer’s direction’ then it is not sufficient evidence that a suspect is in violation of state Penal Law 221.10.

    Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, who has documented the racial disparity in arrest rates in New York City and elsewhere, stated: “[I’m] pleased that the NYPD agrees that these marijuana arrests have not been proper and will begin to curtail them. We are always encouraged when the police decide to obey the law.” He added: “New York City’s routine policing practices, especially for drug possession, require major reform. This is only the first step.”

    Bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce penalties for those in violation of Penal Law 221.10 to a non-criminal violation remains pending in the state assembly.

    An online analysis of marijuana arrest in New York and other major cities nationwide is now available online by the Marijuana Arrests Research Project at: http://www.marijuana-arrests.com.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 19, 2011

    Police made 853,838 arrests in 2010 for marijuana-related offenses, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report, released today. The arrest total is among the highest ever reported by the agency and is nearly identical to the total number of cannabis-related arrests reported in 2009.

    According to the report, marijuana arrests now comprise more than one-half (52 percent) of all drug arrests in the United States. An estimated 46 percent of all drug arrests are for offenses related to marijuana possession.

    “Today, as in past years, the so-called ‘drug war’ remains fueled by the arrests of minor marijuana possession offenders, a disproportionate percentage of whom are ethnic minorities,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a prepared statement. “It makes no sense to continue to waste law enforcements’ time and taxpayers’ dollars to arrest and prosecute Americans for their use of a substance that poses far fewer health risks than alcohol or tobacco.”

    Of those charged with marijuana law violations, 750,591 (88 percent) were arrested for marijuana offenses involving possession only. The remaining 103,247 individuals were charged with “sale/manufacture,” a category that includes virtually all cultivation offenses.

    Marijuana Arrests in the US

    By region, the percentage of marijuana arrests was highest in the Midwest (63.5 percent of all drug arrests) and southern regions (57 percent of all drug arrests) of the United States and lowest in the west, where pot prosecutions comprised only 39 percent of total drug arrests.

    By contrast, the percentage of arrests for heroin and cocaine was lowest in the Midwest (14 percent of all arrests) and highest in the northeast (29 percent of all arrests).

    Overall, law enforcement agents nationwide arrested 1,638,846 people last year for drug abuse violations, surpassing arrests for all other crimes.

    Since 2000, law enforcement have reported making an estimated 7.9 million arrests for marijuana violations.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 23, 2008


    Well, it’s only been 24 hours, but so far 100+ readers have posted comments to The Hill‘s blog telling John Walters to either tell the truth or get out! (I’d be more than happy with the latter.) Keep the feedback coming.

    Also, many of you may also wish to stop by the Huffington Post, where my essay has just been re-posted here.

    Like The Hill, the Huffington Post is a highly influential political website — and it is one of the most visited sites on the Internet. Yet their reporting is seldom critical of the war on (some) drugs. Please send The Post a message that their readership supports marijuana law reform by commenting on this story, “digging” it, and disseminating it widely. Thanks!

    Drug Czar John Walters believes he can lie with impunity.

    He’s wrong.

    Today NORML responds to the Czar’s outrageous claims that few, if any, people are arrested or incarcerated for marijuana violations — and we do so in John Walters backyard: The Hill‘s influential Congress blog.

    How Can We Discuss Marijuana Policy When America’s Top Drug Cop Won’t Even Acknowledge The Facts?
    via The Hill

    If denial is the first sign of addiction, then Drug Czar John Walters is hooked to the gills. He’s addicted to targeting and arresting marijuana consumers, and he’ll do and say anything to keep this irrational and punitive policy in place.

    The Hill is providing reformers with a valuable service by bringing our message prominently to Capitol Hill, and acting as a mediator in a high profile debate with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. In the past, the Drug Czar’s office has outright refused to debate spokespersons from NORML or other marijuana law reform groups, but the office has felt obligated to respond to our posts on The Hill, which remains the paper of record for members of Congress and their staff.

    Because The Hill is widely read by lawmakers and by the national media, it is vital that we demonstrate the popularity of this issue by commenting prolifically. Please post your feedback to The Hill and make a point of disseminating this essay to your friends and colleagues. Previous posts by NORML to The Hill‘s blog have received hundreds of readers’ comments — virtually all favorable toward marijuana law reform. Editors at The Hill inform NORML that it’s the highest volume of readers’ response they’ve ever received on any commentary on any topic!

    The Hill is getting our message; will Congress or the Drug Czar?

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director April 30, 2008

    What major city in America has some of the most aggressively enforced cannabis laws (despite the fact that cannabis has been decriminalized there for more than 30 years)? What major city in America arrests nine minorities for every one Caucasian?

    Houston? Atlanta? Dallas? Birmingham? New Orleans? Miami?

    According to a new and comprehensive report, would you believe the five boroughs that make up New York City?




    What was the New York City Police’s reaction to the data? In the New York Times today they of course attack the groups involved in bringing to the public’s attention the department’s overly aggressive and expensive enforcement of what are supposed to be decriminalized cannabis laws, and then make the amazing claim that there were not 350,000 cannabis-related arrests from 1997-2006, but a mere 8,770.

    What the ?!*%$?!#@*^$#<:+={/#@7$!!!

    The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, has denied that the city’s police officers are using racial profiling in conducting street stops.

    The department’s chief spokesman, Paul. J. Browne, said on Tuesday that the report was flawed. He said there were 8,770 marijuana-related violations from 1997 to 2006. In a statement, Mr. Browne said:

    The N.Y.C.L.U. has used an advocate for marijuana legalization to mislead the public with absurdly inflated numbers and false claims about bias. (Note that the report was underwritten by the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization organization). If the N.Y.C..L.U. is for legalization it should just say so without resorting to smears. It has repackaged
    virtually the same flawed presentation Harry Levine made to the marijuana legalization lobby group NORML in Los Angeles last year. The report erroneously claims that most of the over 300,000 persons arrested between 1997 and 2006 were not smoking marijuana in public and that they possessed only small amounts of marijuana; in other words, the
    infractions were violations. But the actual violations total for 1997-2006 was 8,770; not the 350,000. Between 2002 and 2006, the total was 3,449. Here’s the breakout by year:

    1997: 1062
    1998: 987
    1999: 810
    2000: 1394
    2001: 1068
    2002: 758
    2003: 701
    2004: 663
    2005: 623
    2006: 704 (It was 683 in 2007)

    Hmmmm….I wonder who is telling the truth here, public advocates or the cops?

    At least when NORML confronted Mayor Bloomberg on his 100th day in office in 2002 to stop the NYPD’s then controversial practices such as ‘Operation Condor’ that exploded the cannabis arrest from around 2,000 per year to over 55,000, the NYPD’s public spokesperson did not come out and, shall I say, prevaricate regarding New York City’s verifiable criminal justice data. Back then, the NYPD’s top brass in effect said to NORML and the national media ‘So what if there was an increase in arrest? We were tasked with a quality-of-life, ‘clean up New York City’s streets’ campaign under Mayor Giuliani…’

    The documentation of New York City’s massive increase cannabis arrests have been well documented for years (and affirmed by both state and federal data!), so why is the NYPD attempting to now downplay, in such a dramatic way, their nearly 15-year old aggressive policing policy regarding minor cannabis offenses? (more…)