New York City
Report: New York City Cops Spent One Million Hours In Staff Time Making Marijuana Possession ArrestsMarch 19, 2013
New York City police spent an estimated one million hours in staff time making low level marijuana possession arrests between the years 2002 and 2012, according to the findings of a study released today by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.
Authors of the study report that City law enforcement personnel engaged in approximately one million hours of police officer time to make 440,000 marijuana possession arrests over the past 11 years. Authors further estimated that those arrested for marijuana possession in New York City have spent five million hours in police custody over the last decade.
Authors concluded: “[I]t is clear that the marijuana arrests have taken police off the street and away from other crime-fighting activities for a significant amount of time.”
Under state law, the private possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal civil citation, punishable by a $100 fine. By contrast, the possession of any amount of cannabis in public view is a criminal misdemeanor [NY State Penal Law 221.10].
Previously published data reports that over 90 percent of all marijuana arrests in the state of New York occur in New York City. In 2011, New York City law enforcement spent $75 million arresting approximately 50,000 minor marijuana offenders under Penal Law 221.10. Many of these offenders possessed small amounts of marijuana on their person, and only revealed the cannabis publicly after being ordered by police to empty their pockets during ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches. Over 85 percent of those charged were either African American or Latino.
In his 2013 ‘State of the State’ address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lobbied in favor of legislation to equalize the state’s marijuana possession penalties and to reduce the number of low-level possession arrests in New York City. “These arrests stigmatize, they criminalize, they create a permanent record,” he said. “It’s not fair, it’s not right, it must end, and it must end now.”
Full text of the report, “One million police hours making 440,000 marijuana possession arrests ion New York City, 2002-2012,” appears online here.
Arresting and prosecuting low level marijuana offenders in New York City has little or no impact on law enforcement efforts to reduce violent crime, according to a study released today by Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy organization that focuses on human rights violations worldwide.
The study’s authors reviewed data from the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services to track the criminal records of nearly 30,000 people who had no prior convictions when they were arrested for marijuana possession in public view [NY State Penal Law 221.10] in 2003 and 2004. Researchers assessed whether those arrested for minor marijuana violations engaged in additional, more serious criminal activity in the years following their arrest.
They reported: “[W]e found that 3.1 percent of [marijuana arrestees] were subsequently convicted of one violent felony offense during the six-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half years that our research covers; 0.4 percent had two or more violent felony convictions. That is, 1,022 persons out of the nearly 30,000 we tracked had subsequent violent felony convictions. Ninety percent (26,315) had no subsequent felony convictions of any kind.”
New York City police arrest more people for possessing small amounts of marijuana in public view than for any other offense, the study found. Between 1996 and 2011, police made more than half-a-million (586,320) arrests for this misdemeanor, including a total of around 100,000 in just the 2 years of 2010 and 2011. Of those arrested, the overwhelming majority are either Black or Latino and under 25 years of age.
Investigators concluded: “[T]he rate of felony and violent felony conviction among this group of first-time marijuana arrestees appears to be lower than the rate of felony conviction for the national population, taking into account age, gender, and race. … Neither our findings nor those of other researchers indicate the arrests are an efficient or fair means for identifying future dangerous felons.”
Under New York state law, the private possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal civil citation, punishable by a $100 fine. By contrast, the possession of any amount of cannabis in public view is a criminal misdemeanor.
In June, Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged lawmakers to close the ‘public view’ loophole. That effort was ultimately quashed by, Senate majority leader, Republican Dean Skelos, who argued, “Being able to just walk around with ten joints in each ear, and it only be a violation, I think that’s wrong.”
In October, Gov. Cuomo reiterated his support for amending the state’s marijuana laws. Speaking a the New York State Trooper Class of 2012 graduation ceremony, Cuomo said that he “would not consider” convening a special legislative session unless lawmakers were willing to consider reforms to reduce New York City’s skyrocketing marijuana arrest rates.
Low level marijuana arrests in New York City rose for the seventh straight year in 2011 to 50,680. The arrest total is the highest total on record since former pot smoker Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office and it is the second highest total of pot arrests ever recorded in the history of the city (just 587 arrests behind the record holding year 2000, when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani oversaw some 51,267 people arrested for marijuana violations).
Shockingly, the near-record high arrest total comes just months after New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called on officers to cease making marijuana misdemeanor arrests. Apparently, NYPD officers aren’t very good at listening to their commanding officer.
Of course, what is most troubling about these arrest figures is that under state law they largely shouldn’t be occurring at all. Since 1977, New York State law has categorized the possession of 25 grams of marijuana or less as a violation, not a misdemeanor crime. So then how are NYPD making so many misdemeanor pot arrests? By violating the spirit of the law, if not the law itself.
Rather than ticketing low level marijuana offenders, City police for over a decade have been taking advantage of a separate statute, NY State Penal Law 221.10, which makes it a criminal misdemeanor to possess pot if it is ‘open to public view.’ According to an investigation last year by New York City public radio station WNYC, it was determined that City cops 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.’
And what has been the result of these illegal ‘stop and frisks?’ A press advisory issued yesterday by the Drug Policy Alliance lists the grim details.
– The NYPD has made more than 100,000 marijuana possession arrests for the last two years; nearly 150,000 marijuana possession arrests in the last three years; and more than 227,000 marijuana possession arrests in the last five years.
– New York City spent at least $150 million in the last two years and has spent at least $340 million in the last five years making marijuana possession arrests.
– In the last decade since Michael Bloomberg became mayor, the NYPD has made 400,038 lowest level marijuana possession arrests at a cost to taxpayers of $600 million dollars.
– Nearly 350,000 of the marijuana possession arrests made under Bloomberg are of overwhelmingly young Black and Latino men, despite the fact that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young Blacks and Latinos.
– In the last five years, the NYPD under Bloomberg has made more marijuana arrests (2007 to 2011 = 227,093) than in the 24 years from 1978 through 2001 under Mayor Giuliani, Mayor Dinkins, and Mayor Koch combined (1978 to 2001 = 226,861).
Commissioner Kelly’s 2011 memorandum explicitly directed officers to stop charging defendants with criminal misdemeanors in instances where the contraband ‘was disclosed to public view at an officer’s direction.’ Nevertheless, the record number of low level pot arrests appears to be continuing unabated. Most likely, it will take an act of law to stop this practice.
Fortunately, bipartisan legislation is pending in both the New York State Assembly and Senate to stop this disgusting, ongoing practice. Assembly Bill 7620 and Senate Bill 5187 reduce marijuana penalties involving cases where where marijuana was either consumed or allegedly possessed in public from a criminal misdemeanor to a non-criminal violation. Passage of SB 5187 and AB 7620 will save taxpayer dollars, protect New York City’s citizens against illegal searches, and reduce unwarranted racial disparities in arrests by clarifying the law and standardizing penalties for marijuana possession offenses.
If you reside in New York and want to end the City’s dubious distinction of being the ‘marijuana arrest capital of the world,’ then please contact your state elected officials today and urge them to support SB 5187 and AB 7620. You can do so via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
The award-winning (and totally watchable) Vanguard series from Current TV examines Cannabis Prohibition in America tonight at 9PM (eastern) in ‘The War on Weed’ with not only an obligatory review* of western states’ medical cannabis laws (including California, Colorado and Washington), but, more notable for NORML, is the documentary’s critical review and juxtaposition to the western United States ongoing experiment with allowing medical access to cannabis–and the general cultural and political acceptance for cannabis in most of the western states–to that of the decidedly anti-cannabis attitudes and law enforcement practices for decades in supposedly ‘liberal’ and ‘tolerant’ New York City, where 50,000 cannabis consumers a year are arrested, about ninety percent black and Latino.
*Obligatory, because starting at 10PM (eastern) on December 1st is the Discovery Channel’s Weed Wars, a new series that looks at the fine legal line between compassion and big commerce regarding California’s medical cannabis industry.
Contrastingly, Discovery Channel is also premiering that same week a new series called Moonshiners.
[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.