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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 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.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 2, 2012

    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.

  • 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 Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director August 4, 2011

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg, by most all accounts, is one of the most fascinating political characters of the last decade. A self-made billionaire who, with a clear love for his fellow human beings and with great civic pride, chose to effectively become New York City’s mayor for the last nine years—spending more personal wealth than most any other political candidate in US history, for a mayor’s office no less—as the ultimate expression of his ability and want to positively effect as many people as possible, in a city (and region) that he clearly loves, during his tenure in a position where he can get things done.

    Along the way to becoming one of America’s wealthiest individuals, Mr. Bloomberg has donated a remarkable amount of money to many worthy causes, notably in the field to improve public health in America and the world, most especially at his alma mater, one of the best universities in the world, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

    With good health and continued good fortune, who knows what further impact Mr. Bloomberg will choose to make in national politics in his lifetime? He possess all the requisite skills and resources to become president if that’s what he chooses.

    Today we find out that Mayor Bloomberg is once again demonstrating why he is one of the most interesting and charitable politicians in the modern era in reading today’s New York Times about his most recent donation of $30 million to help black and Latino youth get better integrated into the region’s economy, develop valuable skill sets and to find productive employment.

    The Times reports that Mayor Bloomberg’s initial grant will be matched by New York City-based hedge fund manager and philanthropist George Soros.

    Here is the ironic point to this blog post: If Mayor Bloomberg is genuinely serious about creating more favorable employment environs for black and Latino youth in New York City, he should converse with Mr. Soros, who, has donated more money than anyone on the face of the earth in favor of drug policy reform—notably for cannabis law reforms—who, I’m sure would insist that the good mayor stop arresting black and Latino youth in New York City en mass.

    Regrettably, embarrassingly, for such an enlightened and civic-minded man, Mayor Bloomberg has largely maintained the shameful and starkly racially disparate cannabis law enforcement policies that he inherited from former Mayor (and drug prosecutor) Rudolf Giuliani. Mayor Giuliani exploded the annual cannabis arrest rate in the five boroughs of New York City from an average of about 2,000 arrests to an eye-popping 60,000 arrests per year.

    Bloomberg’s administration has, on average, maintained an annual arrest rate for simple cannabis possession cases over 45,000, with a disturbing ninety percent of arrests happening to….black and Latino youth.

    Mayor Bloomberg, please, listen to Mr. Soros and stop arresting and negatively effecting future employment opportunities for an entire generation of minorities in New York City who got caught doing the same thing you did in your more youthful years.

    And look how well you turned out after using cannabis?

    Why deny over 45,000 other New Yorkers (and tourists) annually the opportunity to pursue their life’s goals and dreams just because, like you, absent an arrest for your cannabis use, they chose to use a little ganja to relax? Unfortunately for them and New York taxpayers, they’re getting permanently scarred by your feckless and expensive Cannabis Prohibition law enforcement practices in Gotham.

    Mayor Bloomberg, your generous and thoughtful donation of $30 million—and that of Mr. Soros’—will be working at cross purposes if you continue to give the green light to the NYPD to arrest 45,000 cannabis consumers annually into the criminal justice system, the vast majority of whom are the very population you’re concerned with.

    Mr. Bloomberg, if you’re worried about saving face or “what does the NAACP think about all of this?”, don’t be. Because, hundreds of thousands of cannabis consumers and tourists in New York City will very much appreciate the change in policy and the NAACP now supports changing America’s antiquated Cannabis Prohibition laws.

    Mayor Bloomberg, please magnify the positive impact of your philanthropy and concerns for civil society by ending the practice of ‘collaring’ cannabis consumers in New York City, and, instead, return to the cost effective and less detrimental practice to cannabis consumers (notably for minorities) by simply issuing a civil fine in the form of a written ticket for cannabis possession cases rather than employ valuable police time and resources unnecessarily arresting so many black and Latino cannabis consumers.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director July 19, 2011

    Today’s New York Times City Blog features an article about a court settlement between New York City and Jamie Rutkowski. Who is Jamie Rutkowski? Until New York City police decided to arrest her for minor cannabis possession—in a city that is supposed to be issuing civil tickets— locking her up in police detention, creating a health hazard for the young woman with diabetes and ultimately paying her $125,000 in damages, no one knew who she was.

    Now, all cannabis consumers in the United States—notably in municipalities and states that have reformed their cannabis laws with decriminalization laws and patient protections for medicinal use—should cite Ms. Rutkowski’s case settlement as precedent against overzealous law enforcement agencies who choose to physically arrest and detain minor cannabis offenders, rather than issue them a civil fine, similar to a speeding or parking ticket.

    Kudos to Ms. Rutkowski and her attorney Joel Berger for 1) challenging the NYC police department’s infamous practice of arresting and detaining for many hours minor cannabis offenders and 2) for making it ironically clear that even an arrest on minor cannabis charges can create serious health concerns whereby an adult who chooses to consume a non-toxic and relatively safe recreational drug like cannabis (or, has the drug recommended to them to consume medically by their physician) can quite literally be placed into a life or death situation.

    “They could have killed me over a joint,” Ms. Rutkowski said. “Something needs to be done.”

    After thousands of years of human use, there is little-to-no scientific evidence that moderate cannabis use is harmful to the individual consumer or society in the whole. However, there is overwhelming and abundantly clear evidence that Cannabis Prohibition can be deadly for individual consumers, law enforcement personnel and those involved in the currently illegal and untaxed businesses of cultivating, transporting and selling cannabis.

    Disgustingly, in a city that, since the late 1970s, is supposed to have true ‘decriminalization’ laws for cannabis possession cases, New York City continues to nearly lead the nation in per capita arrests for simple cannabis possession cases (approximately 43,000 cannabis possession arrests annually; constituting nearly five percent of all annual cannabis arrests nationwide) as well as having one of the most racially imbalanced arrest rates for minorities (approximately nine out of ten cannabis arrests in NYC are made against minorities).

    After Diabetic Woman’s Arrest, a $125,000 Settlement

    By ADRIANE QUINLAN

    Her decision to smoke a marijuana cigarette outside a Manhattan bar where she was attending a bachelorette party landed Jaime Rutkowski in jail, threatened her life and lead to a lawsuit that on Monday yielded $125,000 from the city.

    On Oct. 16, Ms. Rutkowski, who has diabetes, said she was thrown to the ground and arrested on charges of possession of marijuana outside a club on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side.

    Stress elevates her blood sugar levels and at the nearby police station house, the blood sugar meter she uses was confiscated. She relied on the meter to determine how much insulin to inject into her system from an insulin pump inserted in her stomach. An overdose could be life-threatening.

    The police eventually called for an ambulance more than three hours after Ms. Rutkowski had been taken into custody. Emergency medical technicians found that her sugar level was almost four times the normal level, dangerous enough to take her to Bellevue Hospital Center.

    Ms. Rutkowski and her lawyer, Joel Berger, filed a suit against the city and the officers involved in part because they hope it will alert the the Police Department to the needs of diabetic prisoners.

    “The settlement is so high because a woman nearly died,” said Mr. Berger.

    Mr. Berger also said Ms. Rutkowski’s crime was “trivial.” He added: “Almost any jury was not going to be exactly shocked by the nature of the offense. They’re not going to view this as the crime of the century.”

    Ms. Rutkowski was charged with a class-B misdemeanor and received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which means that she was not fined and that after one year her case will be dropped and sealed.

    Elizabeth Thomas, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, said, “We believe the settlement is in the best interest of all the parties.”

    The Police Department’s aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws has led to an increase in arrests for possessing small amounts of the drug. While many of those arrests result in fines but no jail time, they do typically result in spending a night in jail.

    “They could have killed me over a joint,” Ms. Rutkowski said. “Something needs to be done.”

    Mr. Berger said the police did not have a specific protocol to deal with diabetic patients, something that he believes needs to be addressed. “Police officers need to understand that when they arrest a diabetic, there are potentially life-threatening effects,” he said.

    Ms. Rutkowski said she would use money from the settlement to pay student loans and to further her education. A graduate of Temple, where she studied chemistry, she said she’s interested in pursuing a degree as a doctor of veterinary medicine. “I’m going to try and make something good out of a terrible situation,” she said.

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