By the Marijuana Arrest Research Project


The Scandal of Racist Marijuana Arrests
(From The Nation, and The War on Marijuana
in Black and White
from the ACLU




NY City's Marijuana Possession Arrests










Archives: No longer updated but still useful

for researchers.


• STOP & FRISK NYC (news excerpts)


from the Mollen Report









Nov 11, 2014




NYPD to Stop Arresting for Minor Marijuana Possession,
NY Daily News, Nov 10, 2014



Police Commissioner Bratton & Mayor de Blasio

Oct 2014 - responses to our new report:

Race, Class and Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio's Two New Yorks

New York Times Editorial Board, Oct 24, 2014
No Progress on Marijuana Arrests

"Mr. de Blasio's team has produced contrived numbers in an unpersuasive attempt to prove that the arrest picture is somewhat improved. But there's no hiding the fact that New York City is still administering unfair police practices that disproportionately penalize communities of color and damage the lives of the overwhelmingly young people who are targeted. Public anger around this issue will continue to grow until Mr. de Blasio changes the very ugly status quo."

Jim Dwyer in the New York Times,  Oct 21, 2014
Despite de Blasio’s Promise, Marijuana Arrests Persist in New York

When Bill de Blasio was running for mayor last year, he noted that Marijuana arrests, which fall most heavily on black and Latino males, “have disastrous consequences,” and pledged to curtail the practice of ratcheting up what should be a minor violation of the law into a misdemeanor. This week, a report showed that such arrests were continuing at about the same pace as last year; the de Blasio mayoralty had not appreciably changed the number of such cases. The Legal Aid Society has a roster of clients across the city who face misdemeanor charges for possession of minuscule amounts of pot because, it was charged, they were “openly displaying” it. About 75 percent of those charged had no prior criminal convictions, and more than 80 percent were black or Latino, according to the report, from the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug Policy Alliance."

Harry Brunius in the Christian Science Monitor, Oct 22
New mayor, same old story: New York still marijuana arrest capital

"New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized the city's track record of aggressive and frequently unbalanced policing of marijuana offenses during his mayoral campaign. It appears, however, that not much has changed under his watch."

Tessa Stuart in the Village Voice, Oct 21
Pot Arrests Are on the Rise in de Blasio's New York

"The striking disparity can be seen by contrasting the Upper East Side, which has one of the lowest marijuana arrest rates in the city (10 per 100,000 residents), with its neighbor directly to the north, East Harlem, which has one of the highest, 1,128 per 100,000 -- 110 times higher than the Upper East Side. That's a staggering difference -- you might even call it "A Tale of Two Cities." The same pattern is visible across the board: Arrest levels are high in poor black and Latino neighborhoods and low in rich white neighborhoods."

Nicolás Medina Mora in, Oct 23
Here’s Where You’ll Be Arrested For Pot Possession In New York City

"The most arrests happen in poor neighborhoods and to young black or Latino men. A new report by the Drug Policy Alliance shows that Mayor Bill de Blasio has not been able to reduce race and class disparities in enforcing drug laws."


Saki Knafo in / Oct 20
NYPD Still Arresting Large Numbers Of Minorities For Low-Level Marijuana Offenses

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


July 2014: The New York Times Comes out for

"Ending Prohibition, Again" - This time for Marijuana.

A week of amazing articles by a squad of writers and editors.

All on line here:


The RACIAL DISPARITY of the arrests is central to the NY Times's decision and conclusion, as various articles explain:


"The sheer volume of law enforcement resources devoted to marijuana is bad enough. What makes the situation far worse is racial disparity. Whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rates; on average, however, blacks are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession, according to a comprehensive 2013 report by the A.C.L.U."

"In Iowa, blacks are 8.3 times more likely to be arrested, and in the worst-offending counties in the country, they are up to 30 times more likely to be arrested. The war on drugs aims its firepower overwhelmingly at African-Americans on the street, while white users smoke safely behind closed doors."

"Every arrest ends up on a person’s record, whether or not it leads to prosecution and conviction. Particularly in poorer minority neighborhoods, where young men are more likely to be outside and repeatedly targeted by law enforcement, these arrests accumulate. Before long a person can have an extensive “criminal history” that consists only of marijuana misdemeanors and dismissed cases. That criminal history can then influence the severity of punishment for a future offense, however insignificant."

"Even if a person never goes to prison, the conviction itself is the tip of the iceberg. In a majority of states, marijuana convictions — including those resulting from guilty pleas — can have lifelong consequences for employment, education, immigration status and family life."

"A misdemeanor conviction can lead to, among many other things, the revocation of a professional license; the suspension of a driver’s license; the inability to get insurance, a mortgage or other bank loans; the denial of access to public housing; and the loss of student financial aid."

"In some states, a felony conviction can result in a lifetime ban on voting, jury service, or eligibility for public benefits like food stamps. People can be fired from their jobs because of a marijuana arrest. Even if a judge eventually throws the case out, the arrest record is often available online for a year, free for any employer to look up."



"These arrests stigmatize, they criminalize, they create a permanent record. It's not fair, it's not right, it must end, and it must end now." 
 Governor Cuomo's State of the State remarks about marijuana arrests Jan. 9, 2013  [click here]




Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly







Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do. And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties....  It’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”  
− President Barack Obama, quoted by David Remnick in The New Yorker, January 27, 2014.


7 Advocates Working To Reform Marijuana Laws In New York City, Nov 27, 2013
In New York City, more people are arrested for marijuana possession than for any other crime, at a cost of $600 million in taxpayer money over the last decade.

Senator Liz Krueger is a hero, and gets a shout out.
Also worthy of mention (though not included in this article: the great many other writers, reporters and journalists, especially on the web, who wrote repeatedly about the racist marijuana arrests -- especially at Alternet, Huffington, Salon, and Reason; Governor Cuomo (for raising the profile of the issue); the NY Times editorial page (for regularly pointing out the huge number, racial bias and wastefulness of the arrests, and their ties to stop and frisks); NY State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for producing the first and only study of arrests resulting from stop and frisks -- and showing marijuana as the number one arrest;


Why New York Is Considering Legalizing Marijuana
by Saki Knafo, Dec 13, 2013
Brief video of Liz Krueger and others.
At a press conference outside City Hall on Wednesday, state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, specifically referred to the racial discrepancy in marijuana-arrest rates while announcing her proposal to end the prohibition of pot use altogether. The disproportionate arrest of blacks amounts to a “civil-rights disaster,” she said.

How A Small-Time Marijuana Arrest Has Devastated A Great Teacher’s Life

Meet Alberto Willmore, a popular New York City public school teacher. His life was turned upside down when he was falsly arrested for pot possession in 2011.
post on December 8, 2013.  a film by Julie Dressner and Jesse Hicks (10 minutes)


"A Marijuana Stash That Carried Little Risk" by Jim Dwyer, New York Times, Nov 14, 2013

Walking down Eighth Avenue a few weeks ago, I made sure my backpack was fully zipped shut. Inside was a modest stash of pot, bought just an hour or so earlier. A friend knew someone in that world, and after an introduction, then a quiet, discreet meeting, I was on my way to the subway. Never before had I walked through Midtown Manhattan with it on my person. There were four cookies in vacuum-sealed pouches — “edibles” is the technical term — and then a few pinches of what was described as “herb.”

The innovations of Michael R. Bloomberg as mayor are legion, but his enforcement of marijuana laws has broken all records. More people have been arrested for marijuana possession than any other crime on the books. From 2002 through 2012, 442,000 people were charged with misdemeanors for openly displaying or burning 25 grams or less of pot. I wasn’t sure about the weight of my stash — although a digital scale was used in the transaction, I didn’t see the display — but it didn’t feel too heavy. Still, I wasn’t about to openly display or burn it. IT turns out that there was little to fret over. While scores of people are arrested on these charges every day in New York, the laws apparently don’t apply to middle-aged white guys. Or at least they aren’t enforced against us.

“It is your age that would make you most unusual for an arrest,” said Professor Harry Levine, a Queens College sociologist who has documented marijuana arrests in New York and across the country. “If you were a 56-year-old white woman, you might get to be the first such weed bust ever in New York City — except, possibly, for a mentally ill person.”

About 87 percent of the marijuana arrests in the Bloomberg era have been of blacks and Latinos, most of them men, and generally under the age of 25 — although surveys consistently show that whites are more likely to use it. These drug busts were the No. 1 harvest of the city’s stop, question and frisk policing from 2009 through 2012, according to a report released Thursday by the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. Marijuana possession was the most common charge of those arrested during those stops. The few whites and Asians arrested on these charges were 50 percent more likely than blacks to have the case “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal,” the report showed.


"A Report On Arrests Arising From The New York City Police Department’s Stop-And-Frisk Practices," New York State Attorney General, Civil Rights Bureau, November 2013

The most common arrest charges in the pool of [stop and frisk] arrests span a wide range of felony and misdemeanor offenses. The most common offense categories charged at arrest were marijuana possession (14.9%), trespass (13.8%), violence (12.9%), weapons offenses (12.3%), and minor property crimes (11.6%).17 These categories account for more than half—65.5%—of all [stop and frisk] arrest charges. At arraignment, the distribution was fairly similar, with one exception. The most common categories at arraignment were marijuana possession (16.4%), trespass (13.8%), minor property crimes (13.7%), weapons offenses (11.7%), and violence (11.4%). Additionally, drug offenses, which include both sale and possession of controlled substances (other than marijuana) or paraphernalia, increased in prevalence at arraignment to 10.8%. Together, these six categories account for over three-fourths (77.6%) of arraigned cases.


"Review of Stop-and-Frisk Is Planned in Brooklyn; Winner in Race for District Attorney Promises New Scrutiny of Police Tactic," by Sean Gardiner, Wall Street Journal, Sept 11, 2013

The former federal prosecutor poised to become Brooklyn's next district attorney vowed Wednesday that low-level marijuana arrests and the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy would come under greater scrutiny once he assumes office in January.

Speaking on a street corner in the Clinton Hill neighborhood where he lives with his family, Ken Thompson answered questions for almost an hour the afternoon after he defeated six-term incumbent Charles Hynes. Mr. Thompson will be the borough's first black D.A.

Mr. Thompson said he planned to station an assistant district attorney in the police precincts where officers make the most stops in the city—the 75th Precinct in East New York and the 73rd in Brownsville. Those prosecutors will scrutinize every arrest resulting from so-called stop-and-frisk encounters. Cases found to be constitutionally insufficient would be dropped "right there on the spot," Mr. Thompson said. "I want to make sure the people that come into the criminal-justice system, belong in the criminal-justice system," he said....

Mr. Thompson also said that arrests for small amounts of marijuana are "clogging up the criminal -justice system" and diverting resources from fighting more serious crime. He said he would order his prosecutors to issue noncriminal violations in cases of people arrested for possessing 25 grams of marijuana or less. That would mirror state law, but officers make thousands of arrests for small amounts of pot because the law elevates it to a misdemeanor if the marijuana is displayed publicly.

Mr. Thompson said many of those public-display pot arrests occur only after officers ordered people they have stopped to empty their pockets. "That's not right," Mr. Thompson said.


Should legislators legalize marijuana? by Crain's New York Business, August 19, 2013

City Comptroller John Liu last week said that if he were elected mayor he would fight to legalize marijuana, becoming the third candidate after Sal Albanese and Joseph Lhota to support legalizing the drug. Other candidates running for mayor have said laws should be relaxed to decriminalize the drug or allow for medical use.


"Albany's Unlikely Marijuana Legalization Champion," by Dana Rubinstein, CAPITAL. May 24, 2013

Why is Krueger carrying the standard for marijuana legalization, anyway? A white, 55-year old woman representing an Upper East Side district in which arrests for marijuana aren't exactly a monumental issue, and who says she last smoked weed at a Cheech and Chong movie in 1977, would seem to be an odd champion for the case. But Krueger says those things are precisely what make her the right person to get it done, or to try.

“When I started to discuss it with the drug policy specialists, they said, 'You know, you’re sort of a good one to carry this,'” she told me. “'You aren’t a stoner. You’re not someone who’s an obvious suspect for doing this.'"

"I have a very white, upper-middle-class district," she continued. "The kids of my constituents are not getting busted, and if they get busted, they have really good lawyers and they’re not ending up with criminal records.”

And yet, she said, “I saw the pain and suffering that our current laws were inflicting, disproportionately on young, poor people. I saw the amount of money we were spending in the criminal justice system unnecessarily. And I can come up with endless better ways to spend that money. I saw young people having their lives ruined before they ever got out of high school, because they ended up with the kind of criminal record that wouldn’t let them get college tuition assistance, or scholarships, or be eligible to apply for certain kinds of jobs.

"If you have a marijuana bust, you can never go to work as a policeman, or fireman or a sanitation worker. Like, seriously?”


"A New (non-smoking) Champion for Marijuana Legalization in New York" by Dana Rubinstein, CAPITAL, May 17, 2013

“It is my intention as a New York State senator to soon introduce a law that would actually decriminalize, regulate and tax marijuana in New York,” said State Senator Liz Krueger, an Upper East Side liberal, on Wednesday night. The room full of marijuana enthusiasts erupted into applause.

Liz Krueger is not, as she noted, a stoner. She says she last inhaled in the 1970s. But at the Wedneday evening forum she hosted at Baruch College about her bid to legalize pot, she emerged as the unlikely hero of New York State’s marijuana legalization movement.

Under Krueger's draft “Marijuana, Regulation, and Taxation Act,” first released Wednesday night, New York adults would be allowed to grow up to six pot plants at home. New Yorkers could buy and sell weed just like they buy and sell alcohol. And like alcohol, the business of weed sales would be regulated by the New York State Liquor Authority.


Marijuana Reform Panel featuring State Senator Liz Krueger, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, Julie Holland,MD,  Alfredo Carrasquillo of VOCAL-NY, and Lt. Joanne Noughton, NYPD (Ret.).  May 2013 - VIDEO


"Out of One Gram of Marijuana, a ‘Manufactured Misdemeanor’" by Jim Dwyer, New York Times, March 21, 2013

These arrests are a tumorous outgrowth of the stop-and-frisk practices and are now broadly recognized as scandalous. No public official defends them. Yet they remain out of control.... Every district attorney in New York City, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Bloomberg, the state sheriffs, and every other major law enforcement agency have endorsed changing the law to make it a misdemeanor only if a person were actually burning — smoking — the pot. The changes were proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Nevertheless, it became clear on Thursday that the law would not change during the meetings of the Legislature to decide a state budget. 

Marijuana Arrests in NYC Cost One Million Police Hours by Gabriel Sayegh, Huffington Post, March 20, 2013

NYPD used approximately 1,000,000 hours of police officer time making marijuana possession arrests during Mayor Bloomberg's tenure. These are hours that police officers might have otherwise have spent investigating and solving serious crimes.

"NYPD Spent 1 Million Hours Making 440,000 Marijuana Possession Arrests Over Last Decade" by Matt Sledge, Huffington Post, March 19, 2013

The NYPD spent 1 million hours making 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession charges between 2002 and 2012, according to a new report released Tuesday -- just as legislative leaders in Albany are deciding whether to pass a bill reforming drug laws. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, pro-drug law reform groups that commissioned the report, said its findings show a "huge waste" of police resources.

"New York Thinks Decriminalizing Pot Is Easier than Confronting Bloomberg" by Philip Bump, The Atlantic Wire, March 19, 2013
[Long thoughtful data-rich article about stop and frisks, race, and marijuana arrests.]


[Click here for the report "One Million Police Hours."

Other Articles about "One Million Police Hours: Making 440,000 Marijuana Possession Arrests in New York City, 2002-2012"  March 2013

Shame! NYC Cops Spent One Million Hours on Marijuana Arrests Over 11 Years:

NYPD Spent 1 Million Hours Over Last Decade On Marijuana Arrests, Analysis Finds

NYPD Marijuana Arrests Scandal Blows Up Again by Dave Borden,

Shame! NYC Cops Spent One Million Hours on Marijuana Arrests Over 11 Years: Majority Arrested, Black and Latino Youth  by Mark Karlin


Governor Cuomo's State of the State remarks about marijuana arrests Jan 9, 2013  [click here]


"An Ineffective Way to Fight Crime," Editorial New York Times, November 22, 2012

More than a year has passed since Commissioner Raymond Kelly of the New York Police Department issued a memorandum ordering officers to follow a 1977 state law that bars them from arresting people with small amounts of marijuana unless the drug is being publicly displayed. Even so, a lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society in June and pending in state court makes the case that the police are still arresting people illegally in clear violation of both the commissioner’s directive and the state law. More than 50,000 possession arrests were made last year.

Law enforcement officers have often described these arrests as a way of reining in criminals whose other, more serious activities present a danger to the public. But state statistics show that of the nearly 12,000 teenagers arrested last year, nearly 94 percent had no prior convictions and nearly half had never been arrested.

Now a new study by Human Rights Watch further debunks the main premise of New York City’s “broken windows” law enforcement campaign, which holds that clamping down on small offenses like simple marijuana possession prevents serious crime and gets hard-core criminals off the streets.

The study tracked about 30,000 people arrested for marijuana possession in 2003-4 — none of whom had prior convictions — for periods of six-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half years. The study found that about only 1,000 of them had a subsequent violent felony conviction. Some had misdemeanor or felony drug convictions, but more than 90 percent of the study group had no felony convictions whatsoever. The report concluded that the Police Department was sweeping “large numbers of people into New York City’s criminal justice system — particularly young people of color — who do not subsequently engage in violent crime.” This wastes millions of dollars and unfairly puts people through the criminal system....

The Legislature could go a long way toward ending unfair prosecutions by adopting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to make public display of a small amount of marijuana a violation, unless the person was smoking the drug in public.

"New York: Few Arrested for Pot Become Violent Criminals: Police Offer no Public Safety Explanation for Massive Marijuana Arrests," Human Rights Watch, November 23, 2012

(New York) – Few of those who enter New York City’s criminal justice system as a result of marijuana possession arrests become dangerous criminals, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

With the 33-page report, “A Red Herring: Marijuana Arrestees Do Not Become Violent Felons,” Human Rights Watch offers new data indicating that people who enter the criminal justice system with an arrest for public possession of marijuana rarely commit violent crimes in the future. Over the last 15 years, New York City police have arrested more than 500,000 people – most of them young blacks or Hispanics – on misdemeanor charges of possessing small amounts of marijuana in public view. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the police have said the arrests have helped reduce violent crime, they have never specified how.

“Our findings support those of other researchers who question the public safety gains from massive marijuana arrests,” said Jamie Fellner, senior adviser to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “Public officials need to explain exactly how placing thousands of people in cuffs each year for possessing pot reduces violent crime.”

Using data provided by the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services, Human Rights Watch tracked until mid-2011 the subsequent criminal records of nearly 30,000 people who had no prior convictions when they were arrested for marijuana possession in public view in 2003 and 2004. Ninety percent of the group had no subsequent felony convictions. Only 3.1 percent were subsequently convicted of one violent felony offense. An additional 0.4 percent had two or more violent felony convictions.

According to Human Rights Watch’s data, the New York City police sweep large numbers of people into the the city’s criminal justice system – particularly young people of color – who do not go on to become dangerous felons. These findings are consistent with and add to research by Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College, City University of New York, which shows that the preponderance of marijuana arrestees do not have prior criminal convictions.
Allegations that the city’s marijuana possession arrests are racially discriminatory, violate constitutional rights, and cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in law enforcement and court expenses are the subject of ongoing litigation and controversy.

In June, Governor Andrew Cuomo unsuccessfully attempted to have new legislation passed that would reduce the penalties for marijuana possession in public view by making it a non-criminal violation instead of a misdemeanor. Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley, and the five district attorneys of New York City all supported the legislation.

Convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession, and even arrests that are not followed by a conviction, can have far-reaching adverse consequences for those arrested, including by diminishing their opportunities for employment, housing, and loans. Referring to those arrested for criminal possession of marijuana in public view, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has said, “The human cost to each one of these people and their families is serious and it is real.”

“As long as they keep arresting people, and making them pay such a heavy price for possessing marijuana in public view, New York City officials owe the public an explanation for how those arrests contribute to public safety, ” said Issa Kohler-Hausmann, co-author of the report and consultant at Human Rights Watch for this project. “If these arrests have crime control benefits that outweigh the costs, public officials have yet to identify them.”



Legal Aid Claims Police are Still Making Illegal Marijuana Arrests,, October 28, 2012

For 38-year-old Obediah Poteat, being stopped and frisked by the police is just a part of life in the East Tremont section of the Bronx where he lives with his wife and five children. What’s worse, he said, is that officers end up arresting people for minor crimes, like disorderly conduct or having small amounts of marijuana in their pockets. “They are always trying to find a reason to put their hands on you,” said Poteat, who has been stopped multiple times, but never arrested. “To search you, to arrest you for whatever.”

Even though the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy is meant to only uncover guns, it has resulted in more and more arrests when officers inadvertently find marijuana in people’s pockets instead.

According to a July New York Times editorial, the number of arrests citywide for possession of small amounts of marijuana increased from less than 1,000 in 1990 to 50,000 in 2011. Almost 94 percent of the 16-to-19-year-olds arrested last year had no prior convictions and nearly half had no arrest record.

In September of last year, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly released a memo instructing officers not to arrest people who have small amounts of marijuana only if the drugs were in public view at the time of the initial stop. The memo cites a 1977 New York State law that changed the treatment of offenders caught with a small amount of marijuana from being grounds for arrest. Instead officers are to issue a summons ticket, similar to a speeding ticket. The maximum penalty under New York State law for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana that is not burning or in public view is a $100 fine.

Nine months later the Legal Aid Society filed suit against the police department in New York State Supreme Court charging officers with ignoring the commissioner’s directive, continuing their “illegal marijuana arrest practices.”

Plaintiffs in the case included residents of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.
The Legal Aid Society drew early support for its case from an unlikely source, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. The former mayor published an op-ed in the Huffington Post in June supporting Legal Aid’s efforts to stop misdemeanor possession arrests. Koch qualified his support for stop-and-frisk saying he would only continue his support for the policy so long as it is not used to falsely make criminals out of citizens.....

The lead Legal Aid Society attorney on the marijuana arrest practices case said police need to be bound by court orders, “Our objective is to stop this business of improperly arresting people and taking them down to central booking,” said Thomas O’Brien. “It leaves a troubling stain on their record.” The case is still pending, awaiting a judge to be assigned.


The 5 Dumbest Drug Laws in America, by Mike Riggs,, August 23, 2012

1.) In New York, following a police officer's instructions can lead to criminal charges

In New York, possession of small amounts of pot has been decriminalized, but it's still a crime to take the pot out of your pocket and wave it around like you just don't care. That distinction — between possession and display — seems pretty simple on its face. How hard could it be to keep your weed out of view? Not hard at all, unless an officer with the NYPD stops you as part of the city's stop-and-frisk policy, and asks you to empty out your trousers.

In that case, the simple act of pulling out your weed for inspection qualifies as display. According to The New York Times, this Kafkaesque paradox results in "tens of thousands of young black and Latino men who are stopped by the New York City police for other reasons...being charged with a crime" after emptying their pockets.

While NYPD Chief Ray Kelly instructed his officers earlier this year to stop arresting people for doing what they're told, arrests for pot display haven't fallen all that much. In June, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo argued for extending marijuana decriminalization to include display (though not smoking). The proposal was endorsed by law enforcement leaders across New York City, civil and human rights groups, and drug policy reformers; but at 11th hour, Republicans in Albany declared they'd have no truck with further liberalizing New York's pot laws.


"Breaking News: New York Teenagers Like Smoking Weed" By James King, Village Voice,  August, 13 2012

In what might come to a shock as precisely no one, teenagers in New York like to smoke weed. What is somewhat shocking is the number of teens willing to admit that they like smoking weed.

A new survey conducted by the Centers For Disease Control shows that 17.7 percent of New York City teens smoke pot -- and are willing to admit it to pollsters.

That figure is the highest rate of teenage potheads since health bully/New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg began his reign over the health habits of New Yorkers 10 years ago -- the rate is up from 12.3 percent in 2005.


"The Marijuana Arrest Problem, Continued"   Editorial, New York Times, July 4, 2012

Commissioner Raymond Kelly of the New York Police Department issued a memorandum in September ordering officers to follow a 1977 state law that bars them from arresting people with small amounts of marijuana, unless the drug is publicly displayed.

Yet a lawsuit filed in state court in late June charges that the police were still arresting people illegally — in clear violation of both the law and the memo — as recently as May. State data show that the number of marijuana arrests declined in the months after the directive was issued but began climbing again this spring.

The Legislature passed the 1977 decriminalization law to allow prosecutors to focus on serious crime and to stop police from jailing young people for tiny amounts of marijuana. It made possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana a violation punishable by a $100 fine for the first offense. To discourage public smoking of the drug, lawmakers made public display a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.

The number of arrests in the city for minor possession declined after the law was passed but shot up from less than 1,000 in 1990 to 50,000 in 2011. And, of the nearly 12,000 16-to-19-year-olds arrested last year, almost 94 percent had no prior convictions and nearly half had never before been arrested. More than 80 percent of those arrested were black and Hispanic young people.

Defense lawyers have increasingly made the case that officers were illegally charging suspects with “public possession” after directing them to reveal the drug or fishing it out of their pockets during constitutionally questionable searches. The new lawsuit, filed by the Legal Aid Society, lists five plaintiffs, all of whom lawyers say were illegally arrested this spring. In one case, according to the lawsuit, the police officer admitted in a supporting deposition that he had searched the individual and retrieved the drugs to make the arrest.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to end unfair prosecutions with a measure to make public possession a violation, unless the person was smoking the marijuana in public. The State Senate killed the bill. With Albany’s failure to act, the courts need to step in to stop this abusive behavior.


"Numbers Tell of Failure in Drug War" By Eduardo Porter, New York Times, July 3, 2012

....The only dimension along which the war on drugs might be conceived as a success is political. If you ask Americans how concerned they are about drugs, they will give you roughly the same answer they have given for years: not so much.

In a Gallup poll, only 31 percent of Americans said they thought the government was making much progress dealing with illegal drugs, the lowest share since 1997. But fewer people say they worry about drug abuse than 10 years ago. Only 29 percent of Americans think it is an extremely or very serious problem where they live, the lowest share in the last decade.

But the government has spent $20 billion to $25 billion a year on counternarcotics efforts over the last decade. That is a pretty high price tag for political cover, to stop drugs from becoming a prominent issue on voters’ radar screen. It becomes unacceptably high if you add in the real costs of the drug wars. That includes more than 55,000 Mexicans and tens of thousands of Central Americans killed by drug-fueled violence since Mexico’s departing president, Felipe Calderón, declared war six years ago against the traffickers ferrying drugs across the border.

And the domestic costs are enormous, too. Almost one in five inmates in state prisons and half of those in federal prisons are serving time for drug offenses. In 2010, 1.64 million people were arrested for drug violations. Four out of five arrests were for possession. Nearly half were for possession of often-tiny amounts of marijuana.

Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College of the City University of New York, told me that processing each of the roughly 85,000 arrests for drug misdemeanors in New York City last year cost the city $1,500 to $2,000. And that is just the cost to the budget. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, mostly black and poor, are unable to get a job, a credit card or even an apartment to rent because of the lasting stigma of a criminal record for carrying an ounce of marijuana.

Cracking down hard on drug users may sound great on the stump. But Americans who inject drugs are four times as likely to have H.I.V. as British addicts and seven times as likely as drug-injecting Swiss, mainly because the United States has been much slower in introducing needle exchanges and other measures to address the impact of drug abuse on public health.

The Obama administration acknowledges the limitations of the drug wars, and has shifted its priorities, focusing more on drug abuse prevention and treatment of addicts, and less on enforcement.

Still, many critics of the current policy believe the solution is to legalize — to bring illegal drugs out of the shadows where they are controlled by criminal gangs, into the light of the legal market where they can be regulated and taxed by the government.

Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard who studies drug policy closely, has suggested that legalizing all illicit drugs would produce net benefits to the United States of some $65 billion a year, mostly by cutting public spending on enforcement as well as through reduced crime and corruption.

A study by analysts at the RAND Corporation, a California research organization, suggested that if marijuana were legalized in California and the drug spilled from there to other states, Mexican drug cartels would lose about a fifth of their annual income of some $6.5 billion from illegal exports to the United States.

A growing array of Latin American presidents have asked for the United States to consider legalizing some drugs, like marijuana. Even Mr. Calderón is realizing the futility of the war against the narco-syndicates. He asked President Obama and the United States Congress last month to consider “market solutions” to reduce the cash flow to criminal groups.

Legalization may carry risks, too. Peter H. Reuter, one of the authors of the RAND study, who is now a professor of public policy in the department of criminology of the University of Maryland, said he worried that legalizing drugs would vastly expand drug abuse, leading to other potential social and health costs. Supporters of the war on drugs insist that without it, consumption would have soared to the heights of the 1980s and perhaps beyond.

There are other options. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose membership includes former presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Brazil and Poland, has called on national governments to “depenalize” if not necessarily legalize drug possession and sales.

This means stopping the arrest and imprisonment of people who use drugs but cause no harm to others, and going easy on small-scale dealers, whose arrest does nothing to dent the flow of illegal drugs. It means focusing enforcement efforts on reducing the violence of the drug trade, rather than eliminating the drug market itself. It may also entail giving drugs to the most addicted users, to get them into clinics and off the streets.

Such policies require a drastic change of approach in Mexico and the United States. Their governments could start by acknowledging that drug dependence is a complex condition that is not solved through punishment, and that numbers of addicts or dealers arrested, or tons of drugs seized, are hardly measures of success.

A war on drugs whose objective is to eradicate the drug market — to stop drugs from arriving in the United States and stop Americans from swallowing, smoking, inhaling or injecting them — is a war that cannot be won. What we care about is the harm that drugs, drug trafficking and drug policy do to individuals, society and even national security. Reducing this harm is a goal worth fighting for.


“Stop-And-Frisk and the Marijuana Misdemeanor Arrests Outrage” By Ed Koch (Former Mayor, New York City), Huffington Post, June 26, 2012

A great injustice is being perpetrated by members of the New York City Police Department on the people of this city....  According to the [New York] Times of June 23rd,

"Nine months ago, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly issued a memorandum directing police officers not to make misdemeanor arrests for possession of small quantities of marijuana discovered when suspects are ordered to empty their pockets in stop, question and frisk encounters. But police officers have continued to charge New Yorkers with misdemeanor crimes -- rather than issuing them tickets for violations -- for possession of small amounts of marijuana despite Mr. Kelly's directive, according to a lawsuit filed on Friday by the Legal Aid Society."

I urge all five district attorneys to publicly state that they will not prosecute anyone charged with marijuana possession for personal use -- other than for a violation. The hideous part of all of this is that studies show that whites are the greater users of marijuana, not blacks or Hispanics. It is black and Hispanic youths who are being arrested and end up with criminal records, destroying many of their already limited opportunities for getting jobs and achieving a better life. This is unacceptable in a society that believes it is devoted to justice and fairness.

 I want to congratulate the Legal Aid Society's efforts, led by Steven Banks, for bringing a lawsuit to end the arrests and punish the individual cops who have failed and are failing to carry out the order of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Those young men and women who have received misdemeanor sentences unfairly when violations would have been appropriate, should be given the opportunity to have their records cleared of the erroneous charge.

 If the Governor is unable to enlist Dean Skelos in passing the needed legislation now, not next year, I believe we should have a mass rally in City Hall Plaza to demand that the state legislature pass it. The election in November will allow us to punish those who refuse to protect the sons and daughters of this state who are unfairly designated as criminals by the very people they elect.


“NYPD Sued Over Stop and Frisk Marijuana Arrests” by Phillip Smith, Drug War Chronicle, June 25, 2012

 The Legal Aid Society in New York City announced last Friday that it had filed a lawsuit against the NYPD over its continuing practice of making misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests when they order suspects to empty their pockets during the department's controversial stop and frisk searches. Police Commissioner Raymond issued a memorandum last fall directing police not to make the arrests, but only to ticket pot possession offenders, but police continue to charge people with misdemeanors, according to the lawsuit.

 "It's certainly a sad commentary that the commissioner can issue a directive that reads well on paper but on the street corners of the city doesn't exist," said Legal Aid's chief lawyer, Steven Banks.  Under New York state law, marijuana possession is decriminalized, but public possession remains a misdemeanor. In New York City, police order suspects to empty their pockets, then charge them with public possession if a baggie appears....

 The Legal Aid Society filed the suit on behalf of five New Yorkers, all of whom were arrested since mid-April on misdemeanor possession charges after small amounts of pot were found on them during police stops. In each case, the marijuana became visible only after officers searched the men or asked them to empty their pockets.

 "These five individuals are New Yorkers who were essentially victimized by unlawful police practices," Banks said. "The lawsuit is aimed at stopping a pernicious police practice, which is harming thousands of New Yorkers a year and clogging up the court system with one out of seven criminal cases and diverting resources and attention from more serious criminal matters."

One plaintiff, Juan Gomez-Garcia, said he was waiting for a food order outside a Kennedy Fried Chicken restaurant in the Bronx on May 16 when an officer approached, began to question him and asked if he had any drugs on him. Mr. Gomez-Garcia, 27, said that after he admitted to the officer that he had marijuana in his pocket, the officer reached inside the pocket and removed a plastic bag containing a small amount of the drug.

He was arrested and charged with "open to public view" possession for having marijuana "in his right hand." He spent about 12 hours in a jail cell and was let go after he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct violation, according to the lawsuit.

 Because of the NYPD's massive stop-and-frisk program -- aimed overwhelmingly at young people of color -- and because of the department's willful misinterpretation of the law and refusal to follow Commissioner Kelly's directive, New York City is the nation's marijuana arrest capital. Around 50,000 people a year are charged with misdemeanor pot possession.

 According to the Legal Aid Society, NYPD continues to arrest people for pot possession at about the same pace as ever. While arrests dipped below 3,000 in December, by March, the number of arrests had risen to 4,186, a number almost identical to the 4,189 arrests made last August, before Kelly issued his directive.


Young arrestees chained together led into the Brooklyn Court House.  Photo: City Limits




"NYPD Facing Lawsuit For Ignoring Kelly's Stop-And-Frisks Pot Order"  By Rebecca Fishbein, Gothamist, June 23, 2012


The Legal Aid Society has filed a lawsuit against the city and the NYPD for ignoring Commissioner Kelly's order last September to police officers to stop making misdemeanor arrests for small quantities of marijuana hidden from public view during stop-and-frisks.


The lawsuit, which was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan yesterday, alleges that police officers are still charging New Yorkers with misdemeanors when finding them in possession of small amounts of hidden marijuana; while arrests on the lowest-level marijuana charges (possession of less than 25 grams in public view) dropped considerably right after Kelly's order was made last fall, they have since continued to climb. In March 2012, 4,186 arrests were made, as compared to 4,189 arrests in August 2011, and the defendants were typically men of color....  


Friday's suit was brought on by five New Yorkers who, since mid-April, were forced to bring small quantities of marijuana hidden in their backpacks or pockets into public view upon being subject to an NYPD stop-and-frisk. They were all subsequently arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession. "The police…repeatedly failed, and continue to fail to follow the law," the 28 page lawsuit reads. "And as a result, subject these individuals to the full arrest process, with all of its direct and collateral negative consequences."


When we asked NYPD officers about Kelly's order during our trip to the stop-and-frisk training facility this week, they told us that officers weren't being trained to incorporate it. Meanwhile, New York remains the number one city to get arrested for low-level pot possession.




Lawsuit Accuses Police of Ignoring Directive on Marijuana Arrests, By Wendy Ruderman and Joseph Goldstein, New York Times, June 22, 2012


Nine months ago, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly issued a memorandum directing police officers not to make arrests for possession of small quantities of marijuana discovered when suspects are ordered to empty their pockets in stop, question and frisk encounters.


But police officers have continued to charge New Yorkers with misdemeanor crimes — rather than issuing them tickets for violations — for possession of small amounts of marijuana despite Mr. Kelly’s directive, according to a lawsuit filed on Friday by the Legal Aid Society.


“It’s certainly a sad commentary that the commissioner can issue a directive that reads well on paper but on the street corners of the city doesn’t exist,” said Legal Aid’s chief lawyer, Steven Banks.


The 28-page lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against the city and the Police Department, seeks a court order declaring the practice illegal under state law and prohibiting officers from making such arrests. The Police Department would not immediately comment on the lawsuit.


Legal Aid lawyers brought the suit on behalf of five New Yorkers who, they say, were victims of “gotcha” police tactics. The five men were all arrested since mid-April, four in Brooklyn and one on Staten Island; they were charged with misdemeanor possession after small amounts of marijuana were found on them during police stops. In each case, the marijuana became visible only after officers searched the men or asked them to empty their pockets, the suit says.


Under state law, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense when the drug is being smoked or “open to public view.” Possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana out of public view — for example, inside an individual’s pocket or backpack — is a violation, warranting only a ticket.


“These five individuals are New Yorkers who were essentially victimized by unlawful police practices,” Mr. Banks said. “The lawsuit is aimed at stopping a pernicious police practice, which is harming thousands of New Yorkers a year and clogging up the court system with one out of seven criminal cases and diverting resources and attention from more serious criminal matters.”


One plaintiff, Juan Gomez-Garcia, said he was waiting for a food order outside a Kennedy Fried Chicken restaurant in the Bronx on May 16 when an officer approached, began to question him and asked if he had any drugs on him. Mr. Gomez-Garcia, 27, said that after he admitted to the officer that he had marijuana in his pocket, the officer reached inside the pocket and removed a plastic bag containing a small amount of the drug.


He was arrested and charged with “open to public view” possession for having marijuana “in his right hand.” He spent about 12 hours in a jail cell and was let go after he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct violation, according to the lawsuit.


In New York City, many of the tens of thousands of misdemeanor marijuana arrests made each year have been a result of stop-and-frisk encounters in which drugs hidden on a person are brought into public view only because of a police officer’s frisk or instructions that a person empty his or her pockets, according to lawyers in the suit.


In an effort to end these prosecutions, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sought this month to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in public view. The Legislature did not act on the proposal.


Critics of the Police Department’s enforcement policy said that police officers have been willfully misinterpreting the state’s marijuana laws for more than a decade to produce more arrests. Earlier this month, testifying before the City Council, Mr. Banks presented statistics that he said showed that officers had also been ignoring Mr. Kelly’s order, issued in September 2011.


In August 2011, 4,189 people were arrested in New York City for misdemeanor marijuana possession, Mr. Banks said. While the arrests dipped below 3,000 in December, the “decline was only temporary,” he said, adding that by March, the number of arrests had risen to 4,186



[The full text of the legal document -- the complaint -- is here:





"What’s Missing From This Picture?"  Editorial, New York Times, June 22, 2012


New York lawmakers had little reason to celebrate the conclusion of this year’s legislative session on Thursday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the Legislature effusively for its work, but he failed to mention how he and lawmakers created corrupt legislative districts that will remain for a decade — the worst political act of the session....


The State Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, has tried to make a joke of Mr. Cuomo’s efforts to decriminalize public possession of small amounts marijuana. Possessing a small amount of marijuana in New York is a violation, unless the marijuana is shown in public, which can result in a misdemeanor and a criminal record. The problem, defense lawyers say, is that police officers sometimes induce people to empty their pockets, as a way of getting an arrest. Too many black and Hispanic youths, especially in New York City, have their lives permanently scarred because of unfair enforcement of the current law. It needs to be changed.




"Spin City: Inside The NYPD's Stop & Frisk Training Facility"  By Christopher Robbins, The Gothamist,  June 21, 2012


Yesterday the NYPD loaded reporters onto a bus and drove them up to the Bronx to view their updated stop-and-frisk training program at the department's Rodman's Neck facility...  The surreality ended at the press conference, which followed the live-action demonstrations of three stop-and-frisk scenarios that 1,300 "high-impact" officers (those most likely to conduct stops) have completed since April, and are now required for new recruits...


We asked if the new training incorporated Commissioner Kelly's order in September to stop arresting citizens (mostly young men of color) who are essentially tricked into bringing small amounts of marijuana into public view—turning violations into misdemeanors—during stop-and-frisks. "That's not currently part of the training," O'Keefe said.


Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne asked Inspector Kerry Sweet, the executive officer of the NYPD's Legal Bureau to chime in. "We enforce the law as it is," Sweet said, as another six people were arrested for marijuana possession. "If there are legislative changes, we will address the changes."




"Gov. Cuomo Says Republicans Sink To 'New Low' Over Fight To Decriminalize Small Amounts Of Marijuana"  By Glenn Blain, New York Daily News,  June 20, 2012


Governor claims GOP have buckled to the ultra-conservative wing of the party in an effort to block bill and says opposition to marijuana reform will cost them in November


ALBANY — The fight over getting high on marijuana has plunged relations between Gov. Cuomo and state Senate Republicans to a new low.


The governor bashed the GOP-controlled Senate Wednesday for knuckling under to the “ultra-conservative side of the party” and blocking his bill to decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of weed.


“The Conservative Party made their voice heard,” Cuomo said during an Albany radio appearance. “I think there is no doubt but that the state Senate heard the conservative wing of the party and they’re reacting to it,” Cuomo added.


Cuomo, in a not-so-veiled threat, said the Senate’s opposition to marijuana reform and legislation to raise the minimum wage would cost them in November elections. “There is no place in this state for extreme conservative theory,” Cuomo said. “If the Senate wants to run as extreme conservatives, how much do you want to bet on the outcome in November?”

Cuomo’s broadside marked one of his first and strongest criticisms of the Senate GOP — and a full-throated transition into campaign mode.




"Divide in Albany Kills Proposal on Marijuana"  By Thomas Kaplan and John Eligon, New York Times, June 19, 2012


The Democrats who control the State Assembly, many of them black or Latino residents of New York City, saw a proposal to decriminalize the open possession of small amounts of marijuana as a simple matter of justice: too many black and Latino men were being arrested because, after being stopped by the police, they were forced to empty their pockets.


But the Republicans who run the State Senate, all of them white and most of them from suburban or rural districts, saw decriminalization differently: as an invitation for young people to use drugs and as a declaration that Albany was soft on crime...  The differing life experiences, and worldviews, of lawmakers in the two chambers proved too much to overcome in the final days of this legislative session, and on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared his marijuana proposal dead....


All legislative seats are on the ballot in the elections this year, and Republican senators have pointedly refused to take up several issues that are avidly sought by Democrats in the Assembly but that might upset conservatives, including the marijuana bill and a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage.


Mr. Cuomo unveiled his marijuana proposal two weeks ago, promoting it as a way to end the high number of arrests that result from the stop-and-frisk practice of the New York Police Department. He immediately won the backing of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, as well as the department and prosecutors.  With the support of law enforcement, some Democrats and drug-policy advocates said they did not expect the Republican-controlled Senate to stand in the way.


“You have the governor of the state, the speaker of the Assembly, the mayor of the city, the police commissioner, all five D.A.’s from the city,” said Harry G. Levine, a sociologist at Queens College who has studied the city’s marijuana arrest practices. “It seemed like if this many powerful people said they wanted X, which wasn’t that big a deal, it should be possible to do it.”


But the collapse of the marijuana proposal illustrated an at-times awkward reality about the balance of power in Albany: Legislation eagerly sought by New York City can easily be torpedoed by lawmakers from upstate, even when the legislation largely affects only residents of the city.  The marijuana measure would have had an impact mostly on city residents because, of the more than 50,000 low-level marijuana arrests in New York State last year, 9 in 10 occurred in the city, according to state data...


Supporters of the marijuana proposal were not pleased. Assemblywoman Rhoda S. Jacobs, a Democrat who represents Flatbush, Brooklyn, said Republicans were blinded by ideology and ignoring the likelihood that their own constituents used marijuana....   Mr. Cuomo, who has at times been accused of not paying enough attention to the concerns of black and Latino lawmakers, won widespread applause for tackling the marijuana issue and, in doing so, giving more public attention to the growing criticism of the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics. But Assemblywoman Inez D. Barron, a Democrat representing East New York and parts of Canarsie and Brownsville in Brooklyn, said the governor had not pushed the issue vigorously enough in the past two weeks.  “It’s not a critical issue to him, but it is for our communities, and we understand it,” Ms. Barron said. “I believe that he’s playing a game of trying to enhance his political stature by not pushing the Republicans. He doesn’t want to expend a political favor by asking them to really come forth and support this bill.”


Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo argued that his marijuana bill was the kind of proposal, like same-sex marriage, that would take time to persuade lawmakers to support. “Many of the large issues, social issues, they don’t happen over a period of weeks,” he said. “It takes a period of months, sometimes a period of years.”



Political Pressure Caused Cuomo's Pot Plan to Go Up in Smoke, By Ailsa Chang, WNYC, June 19, 2012

Governor Andrew Cuomo says it's "highly unlikely" that a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession in public view will pass before Albany ends its legislative session Thursday. Cuomo announced his support of the bill at the beginning of June, with the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and all five district attorneys in the city, as well as top prosecutors from other New York counties.  But during a press conference Tuesday, Cuomo said that Republicans — who must support the measure for it to pass the state Senate — are under "tremendous" pressure to oppose the legislation.  "The senate got a lot of blow back," Cuomo said.  "Pardon the pun."

Two weeks ago, state Senate majority leader Dean Skelos suggested to reporters that the sticking point for senate Republicans was an issue of marijuana quantity. The proposal would decriminalize public possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, which Skelos said would open the door to "being able to just walk around with 10 joints in each ear."

But supporters of the bill said Tuesday that the obstacle for Republicans moved to a more political one: pressure from the State Conservative Party. Chairman Mike Long said the Conservative Party would be keeping track of any Republican who supported the measure. "If a Republican votes for decriminalized marijuana," said Long, "they run the risk of losing our endorsement either this year or in the future." Long made good on threats last year when he vowed to retaliate against senate Republicans who voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Long said decriminalizing marijuana would encourage illicit drug use among young people, and he added that Bloomberg's support of the bill is inconsistent with his other policies."You can't go around campaigning that a large sugary soda is bad for you, but it's okay to have marijuana," Long said.

Gabriel Sayegh, the state director in New York of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group, said he was surprised that the Conservative Party would be pulling away support from a bill that had so much support from law enforcement. "This is a new rupture. I don't recall a time that we've seen this," he said. Cuomo announced his support of the bill this month, saying the current law was confusing to police officers.  He pointed out marijuana arrests are disproportionately black and Latino, and many arrests for publicly displaying pot result when officers direct people to empty their pockets during stop-and-frisks. Bill supporters say they are committed to passing the bill during any special session called in Albany before the end of the year, or next year.

A more limited version of the bill has been informally proposed by legislators that would have decriminalized only marijuana that's displayed at the direction of an officer during a stop and frisk. But Cuomo said he's seeking broader reform than that.  "Sometimes it's better to try to get the full reform because a partial reform costs you something. It costs you the energy in many ways that you've developed on the issues," the governor said, "and a partial reform can suggest to people, 'Well, we've taken care of that. That's done. Mark it off your list. You don't have to worry anymore.'" Cuomo adds that he's not confident the senate would have passed a stop-and-frisk "exception" anyway. 

Asked about how he feels about the NYPD's stop and frisk tactics, he said, "I'm going to to leave that up to Commissioner Ray Kelly and the mayor. That's an issue for local government."



“Why Marijuana Decriminalization Won't Kill NYPD Discrimination” By Natasha Lennard, Alternet, June 16, 2012


The proposal to decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of marijuana risks ending a number of objections to the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices, without properly addressing the racist skew of the policing tactic and the damage it can wreak on the lives of those it targets (namely young black and Latino men in primarily poor neighborhoods). More troubling still, decriminalization as it is currently proposed could lead to even less transparency and accountability when it comes to NYPD practices.


Across the United States, marijuana policy reform is gaining momentum on state-level legislative agendas. In New York, where low-level marijuana arrests constitute one in every seven arrests made, the proposal to decriminalize public marijuana could lessen the harm done to the lives of those consistently stopped, frisked and deemed criminal by the NYPD. When you dig into the details, however, it seems that decriminalization could be little more than a Band-Aid over the bullet wound of racist police practices.


Cuomo's proposal responds to one of the major criticisms leveled against stop and frisks: that the NYPD quite literally forces individuals to commit criminal offenses relating to marijuana. Police officers regularly compel the subjects they stop (85 percent of whom are black or Latino) to empty their pockets. In New York, it is currently a violation, but not a crime, to possess a small amount of marijuana privately. If the drug is brought into public, however, this becomes a crime (a misdemeanor). So, when the police instruct subjects to empty their pockets during stops (or, as has often been reported) illegally reach into subjects' pockets to pull out small amounts of marijuana, the subject now faces criminal charges because police action has brought the drug into public.


As such, the decriminalization proposal, if passed, would stop the direct creation of criminals through stop-and-frisks as described above. The plan is to make the possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana in public a violation (as in the case of private possession) and no longer a misdemeanor, so no longer a criminal offense. Police would then issue a summons for the violation, but the subject would not face arrest, fingerprinting, photographing and the lifelong burden of criminal charges.


The NYPD made 50,864 low-level marijuana arrests in 2011: 82 percent of the arrestees were black or Latino. Were decriminalization to go through (which alone involves a long, difficult political battle), thousands of young black and Latino New Yorkers stopped by police might at least not face the immediate punishment of an arrest record for possessing a small amount of pot. This would take a significant punitive sting out of stop and frisk and its racist bent.

The key thing to understand about the proposed decriminalization is that it moves low-level marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to a violation. So, what happens with a violation? Harry G. Levine, professor of sociology at Queens College CUNY and long-term researcher into marijuana arrests, points out that violations are regularly mischaracterized by those with little experience of New York's penal system.


"People say, 'Oh, a violation, that's just like a traffic ticket.' It's not like a traffic ticket," Levine told me in a phone interview. "It's what I'd call a 'misdemeanor lite.'"


Levine explained the swift (and common) way in which violations become criminal charges. If an individual is charged with a violation by a police officer and issued a consequent summons, the person is required to appear in court on a certain date and likely pay a fine. (The fine for the noncriminal violation of marijuana possession as a first-time offense in New York is currently "no more than $100"). However, if you fail to appear in court on the required date, or if you show up and wait in what are often hours-long lines, but have to leave before your name is called (perhaps because of childcare or work commitments), or if you fail to pay a fine by the required date, then a court-ordered arrest warrant (a "bench warrant") is issued and entered onto the NYPD database. Then, if you are stopped by the police again, you will face arrest and a criminal record.


"The summons system can produce some of the same consequences as the arrest system," noted Levine. But perhaps most crucially, there is currently no way of knowing precisely how often summonses turn into criminal charges because of bench warrants - the data is simply not available.


The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) collects and makes publicly available data about criminal arrests in the entire state. However, no such data is compiled regarding noncriminal violations. Criminal arrest data includes demographic information, such as the race of the arrestee; no such information exists for summonses. "The summons system is quite subterranean," said Levine, noting that for some years he has unsuccessfully sought data on how many noncriminal violations lead to criminal charges through bench warrants.


Levine added that without legislative or policy reform to make marijuana possession summonses traceable, this lack of data will prove a "huge problem." Given that issuing summonses (essentially writing a ticket) takes up considerably less time and resources than actually bringing someone to a precinct for a criminal arrest, police could write thousands more summonses for marijuana possession, potentially widening the net of those who have to face the criminal justice system. Stop-and-frisk practices can remain as discriminatory as ever, with even less data available to prove it.


"There needs to be a conversation about what decriminalization means," said Levine, noting that there are growing examples around the country of bad decriminalization with high fines, which go directly to the city and the police - thus incentivizing cops to write more summonses. In different states, counties and cities, police departments handle marijuana arrests in different ways; across the country, however, with or without decriminalization, racial discrimination prevails despite government statistics showing that white young men use marijuana more than any other demographic.


Levine quips all too seriously that "good decrim." would mean that everyone was treated like most white upper-middle class people with regards to marijuana ("they don't get arrested, ticketed, or fined"). Which drives home the perturbing accuracy of Bloomberg's comment on decriminalization and stop and frisks. Decriminalization might "end some objections," but it won't stop systematically racist policing.



"New York City Council Passes Resolution, Calls on Albany to Pass Legislation Ending Racially Biased, Costly, Unlawful Marijuana Possession Arrests" by Drug Policy Alliance, June 15 2012

Yesterday, the New York City Council passed Resolution 986-A which calls for an end to racially biased, costly, unlawful arrests. The resolution, introduced by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Oliver Koppell, was co-sponsored by a majority of Council members and passed by an overwhelming majority during the monthly Stated meeting. The resolution calls for closing the loophole to clarify the marijuana possession law in New York. The New York State Legislature decriminalized personal possession of marijuana in 1977, finding that arresting people for small amounts of marijuana "needlessly scars thousands of lives while detracting from the prosecution of serious crimes.”

More than ninety percent of marijuana possession arrests come from New York City because of the City’s aggressive stop-and-frisk policies that have swept up 700,000, mostly young and black and Latino men in 2011 alone.

“Despite marijuana having been decriminalized since 1977, tens of thousands of mostly black and Latino young people are arrested after a police officer asks them to take marijuana out of their pocket during a stop-and-frisk,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “By passing this resolution, the City Council is calling on the Senate to stop playing politics with the lives of our City’s young black and Latino men and pass this legislation.”

As numerous news articles and research have demonstrated, the NYPD engages in unlawful practice of mischarging and arresting people for marijuana possession after an illegal search; or, the arrest occurs when the person complies with an NYPD officer’s directive to “empty their pockets.” Many people comply, even though they’re not legally required to do so. If a person pulls mari¬juana from their pocket or bag, it is then “open to public view.” The police then arrest the person for burning or possession in public view. These arrests needlessly criminalizes young people – especially young people of color – and harms the relationship between law enforcement and the community.

“This resolution is not just about decriminalizing marijuana. It’s about raising the bar on how we achieve accountability, racial equity, and most of all, public safety built on policies that encourage community engagement and solutions,” said Chino Hardin, leader trainer at Center for NuLeadership. “It is not just a resolution but investment in the right direction, and we call on our legislative leaders to join the growing and diverse community leadership for safety and justice.”

Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and all five New York City District Attorneys support legislation in Albany introduced at the request of Governor Cuomo that clarifies the existing marijuana possession in public view law in order to prevent unlawful arrests by police officers and to reduce the racial disparities of those arrested.

“There's no better example of how the war on drugs has become an excuse to criminalize low-income communities of color in New York City than the marijuana arrests crusade. The City Council is showing leadership calling for an to end these racially biased and costly marijuana arrests,” said Alfredo Carasquillo, a community organizer with VOCAL-NY. “It's time to start investing in classrooms, human services and jobs instead of wasting tens of millions of dollars every year locking up tens of thousands of Black and Latino youth for a minor offense that was decriminalized 35 years ago.”

The resolution calls on the New York Senate to act swiftly and pass legislation, "putting Governor Cuomo's proposal into effect in order to end the practice."

“There are five days left of the legislative session, and as we know from data, the marijuana arrests spike in the summer,” said Gabriel Sayegh, state director the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York office. “If the legislature doesn’t act this year, thousands more young people of color will be unlawfully arrested, saddled with a criminal record, and face significant barriers to overcome for life, while their white counterparts will be largely left alone. That's shameful. The time for reform is now."


"New Yorkers Are Systematically Screwed By 'Public View' Marijuana Law. These Are Their Stories"  By James King, Village Voice, June 13, 2012

In an effort to persuade New York lawmakers to support Governor Andrew Cuomo's push to decriminalize "public view" marijuana arrests, a drug policy group has started a video campaign to illustrate how people are getting screwed by a loophole in the Marijuana Reform Act, which (supposedly) decriminalized weed in the Empire State in 1979.

As it stands, if you're busted with weed in private, you've committed a violation that's about as serious a crime as a parking ticket. However, if you're caught with weed in public, it's a misdemeanor. The loophole has led to the disproportionate arrests of young minorities (of the roughly 50,000 people arrested each year in New York for low-level marijuana offenses, 87 percent are black or Hispanic).

The Drug Policy Alliance has put together a 15-part series of interviews with people explaining how they were screwed by the "public view" portion of New York's marijuana law.




Cuomo’s Pitch: Yes, We Cannabis: Weeding Out The Worst Of Stop-And-Frisk"   column by Bill Hammond,  New York Daily News, June 5, 2012

While Nanny Bloomberg harshes our sugar buzz, cool-guy Gov. Cuomo is telling the cops to go easy on marijuana.  Excellent move, Dude.

Kidding aside, Cuomo’s plan to decriminalize public possession of small amounts of pot is the opposite of dopey. It’s smart policy and smart politics at the same time.

The fact that the NYPD arrests more than 50,000 people a year for doing something that practically everyone under the age of 60 has at least tried — and knows full well to be no more dangerous than alcohol, and probably less so — is beyond ridiculous.

Thousands of young people are being handcuffed, fingerprinted, held behind bars and given permanent criminal records for an activity also perpetrated by at least four U.S. Presidents, not to mention infamous hippies Newt Gingrich and Clarence Thomas.

Cuomo himself has acknowledged smoking marijuana “in my youth.” When asked during his first mayoral campaign if he had tried pot, Bloomberg said: “You bet I did. And I enjoyed it.”

According to a new biography of President Obama by David Maraniss, the future leader of the free world and his friends made a point of closing the car windows when they toked up, so they could tilt their heads back and take “roof hits” when the joint was finished.

Yet none of these lawbreakers was caught. So none got turned down for a job or forfeited a student loan or, most tragically of all, lost custody of their children — all of which can and do happen to the mostly young, mostly black and brown New Yorkers swept up in the city’s modern-day reefer madness.

Compounding the injustice is the fact that New York supposedly decriminalized marijuana 35 years ago — when the Legislature downgraded private possession of up to 25 grams, or 7/8 of an ounce, to a mere violation, the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

Arresting people over pot “needlessly scars thousands of lives and wastes millions of dollars in law enforcement resources, while detracting from the prosecution of serious crime,” lawmakers declared at the time.

But that wise policy became collateral damage in the NYPD’s successful war for safe streets, as cops looked for any valid reason to confront and cuff people they suspected of crimes. Pot arrests went through the roof during the Giuliani years and stayed sky-high under Bloomberg — who has presided over more than 400,000 marijuana collars.

Clearly, in this case, the NYPD has taken numbers-driven enforcement too far.

Theoretically, the police are nabbing most of these people for possessing or smoking the dope in full public view, which is still a class B misdemeanor. In many, if not most, cases, however, the pot was harmlessly hidden from view until the owner was confronted during a stop-and-frisk — and an officer either searched the suspect or told him to empty his pockets.


"The Evolution of Cuomo’s Push to Lower Pot Arrests" By Ailsa Chang, WNYC News, June 05, 2012   (Also 5 minute radio news from NPR and broadcast on All Things Considered)

Under current law in New York, possessing a small amount of marijuana is only a crime if it's in public view.  On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo put his political muscle behind a bill that would make that a violation, not a crime ― meaning you only get a ticket and pay a fine. Cuomo's sudden announcement took many by surprise, but it was a decision that had been unfolding for months. Cuomo made the announcement backed by his own show of force — all five District Attorneys in New York City signed on, as did Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who was in Albany for the announcement.

An earlier version of this bill was actually introduced by two lawmakers last year, a couple weeks after a WNYC investigation suggested police were making unlawful marijuana arrests in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods.... 

 The WNYC investigation found the problem wasn't that marijuana was against the law — it was how the police were allegedly carrying out the law. More than a dozen men from the most heavily policed precincts told WNYC they were arrested for displaying marijuana in public view when their marijuana was actually hidden in their clothes. They claimed during a stop and frisk, police either ordered them to empty their pockets or pulled the marijuana out themselves before arresting them.  Cuomo touched on the issue at Monday’s announcement. “If you possess marijuana privately it’s a violation, if you show it in public it’s a crime,” Cuomo said. “It’s incongruous, it’s inconsistent the way it’s been enforced.”


Officer reaches into a pocket during a frisk in Brooklyn


Five months after WNYC’s investigation aired, Commissioner Kelly issued an internal order to the entire police department saying those kinds of arrests were not allowed under existing law. In the months that followed Kelly’s order, marijuana arrests declined, but not substantially — about 14 percent, according to state data. But the commissioner’s directive was a gift to Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn. He had already introduced his bill that would decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana in public view. “The directive from Commissioner Kelly gave us the opportunity to make a strong argument to the Governor that there is recognition of the flawed nature of these arrests by the police department itself,” Jeffries said at the time.

Jeffries, along with Republican state Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, continued pushing Cuomo to back their marijuana bill. They got a glimmer of hope in March.

Cuomo helped carve out an exception to a new law:  people convicted for the first time of possessing small amounts of marijuana would not be included in the state's expanded DNA database. Sayegh said it was a huge clue to everyone lobbying for fewer marijuana arrests. “That's a real clear moment, a definable moment where we know that the Cuomo administration knows this thing is wrong,” he said.  The momentum against unlawful marijuana arrests grew. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who's considered a likely candidate for mayor, planned to pass a resolution next week denouncing unlawful marijuana arrests and urging Albany to pass the marijuana bill.

Lobbyists tell WNYC that phone calls from the governor's office to legislators, law enforcement officials and advocates reached a fever pitch last Thursday, and those calls continued through the weekend.

Cuomo's abrupt announcement about the marijuana bill on Monday was hailed by criminal justice experts. Many Albany observers expect the bill to pass. It will likely sail through the Democratic-controlled Assembly, and if Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos allows the bill to the floor for a Senate vote, Cuomo only needs two GOP votes. Grisanti, a Republican, is locked in since he was one of the bill’s original sponsors.

If the bill passes, Harry Levine, a Queens College sociologist, offered a warning: There may be fewer marijuana arrests, but he says we'll probably see tens of thousands more summonses issued for marijuana possession in the same precincts where people were previously getting arrested.

“So it will be young blacks and Latinos ― mostly men ― who are being given the summonses, just as it is mostly ― 87 percent ― of those who are being arrested now,” he predicted.

Levine says that racial disparity is no small deal, even if you're talking about summonses.  Even though studies show young whites smoke pot more, he notes, mostly young blacks and Latinos would be paying the hefty fines for marijuana in this city — about $100 per ticket.  And if they don't show up in court on the correct day to pay those fines, they could still be arrested.


Altering a Law the Police Use Prolifically, By Jim Dwyer, New York Times, June 5, 2012

This week, the governor and the speaker of the Assembly said they supported a change in the law so that publicly possessing small quantities of pot would no longer be a misdemeanor. “This is primarily a young-person problem, about 60 percent,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday. “And primarily, overwhelmingly, a problem for the black and brown community, 94 percent of the convictions.”

In a startling turnaround, both Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said that they supported the change in the law.

Under Mr. Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly, no other prohibition has been so vigorously enforced. About 400,000 people have been arrested over the last 10 years for breaking New York State Penal Law 221.10, which makes it a misdemeanor to openly possess or burn less than an ounce of pot.

For the last four years, I have asked the mayor’s office and the police commissioner why there has been an explosion of marijuana arrests among black and Latinos. Officials in those offices consistently, and ardently, defended the arrests as vital to public safety....

In 2009, John Feinblatt, a mayoral aide, said, “This continued focus on low-level offending has been part of the city’s effective crime-reduction strategy, which has resulted in a 35 percent decrease in crime since 2001.”

Last year, another aide, Frank Barry, said, “Marijuana arrests can be an effective tool for suppressing the expansion of street-level drug markets and the corresponding violence.”

What changed?

At the state level, Mr. Cuomo won passage of legislation to expand collection of DNA to include people charged with misdemeanors. He agreed, in exchange for the support of Democrats in the Assembly, to exempt people facing a first arrest in minor marijuana cases.

He also privately promised to fix a few lines in the laws governing marijuana possession, the changes he proposed this week. Currently, having a small quantity of pot is not a crime if it is not visible; it is merely a violation, like a traffic summons. However, if the pot is openly displayed, it is a misdemeanor. So, people ordered to turn out their pockets by a police officer are displaying marijuana, a misdemeanor.

Those misdemeanor charges, Mr. Cuomo said, were an “aggravated complication” of searches conducted in New York City. Last year, about 700,000 people were stopped, questioned, and in many cases, searched; most of those people were black and Latino.

Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly are under pressure over that practice, noted Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. A federal judge ruled last month that thousands of searches did not appear to be constitutional. The Legal Aid Society plans to sue the city over the marijuana arrests, said Steven Banks, the attorney in chief for the society, which provides many of the defense lawyers in New York’s criminal courts. The main police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has said there are quotas for the number of stops, although the Police Department calls them performance goals.

Hakeem Jeffries, an assemblyman from Brooklyn, had urged the reforms proposed this week, which need the support of the State Senate to become law. “The possession of small quantities of marijuana is either a crime, or it’s not,” Mr. Jeffries said. “It cannot be criminal behavior for one group of people and socially acceptable behavior for another group of people, where the dividing line is race.”


"No Crime, Real Punishment"  New York Times Editorial, June 4, 2012

New York State decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the late 1970s. But last year, in New York City, 50,000 people — the majority of them, young African-American or Hispanic men — were still arrested for possession because of overzealous policing and a weakness in the law.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view — a sensible step that should decrease the number of those arrests and lessen the damage to those young lives. Now Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has endorsed the governor’s proposal, must rein in the city’s runaway stop-and-frisk program that is also disproportionately stopping young black and Hispanic New Yorkers.

In 1977, hoping to relieve court congestion and allow prosecutors to focus on more serious crime, the State Legislature made possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana a violation — something akin to a traffic ticket — punishable by a $100 fine for the first offense. Possession in public view was made a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.

Marijuana arrests initially declined, but they exploded from less than 1,000 in 1990 to 50,000 last year. Of the nearly 12,000 16-to-19-year-olds arrested in 2011, nearly half had never been arrested before; 94 percent had no prior convictions.

Public defenders have repeatedly charged that the police are entrapping young people, stopping them for no cause and then requiring them to empty their pockets to bring their marijuana into public view. And former police officers now speak openly of being pressured to drive up their arrest rates....

The Legislature should take up Mr. Cuomo’s proposal and pass it swiftly. People with minor convictions can be denied public housing and federal student aid and written off by prospective employers. The numbers for the stop-and-frisk program are even more disturbing — 700,000 last year, about 85 percent of those involving blacks and Hispanics, who make up about half the city’s population.

Decriminalizing public possession of small amounts of marijuana will address only part of that problem. For the sake of fairness and public safety, the stop-and-frisk program, which breeds fear and distrust of the police in minority neighborhoods, must be reformed.


"NY Gov. Cuomo Proposes Reducing Marijuana Penalty"  Associated Press and Washington Post, June 4, 2012

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday proposed cutting the penalty for public possession of a small amount of marijuana, a change in state law that would defuse some criticism of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy in minority communities.

With three weeks remaining in the legislative session, Cuomo said his bill to reduce the criminal misdemeanor to a violation with a fine up to $100 would save thousands of New Yorkers, disproportionately black and Hispanic youths, from unnecessary arrests and criminal charges.

“There’s a blatant inconsistency. If you possess marijuana privately, it’s a violation. If you show it in public, it’s a crime,” Cuomo said. “It’s incongruous. It’s inconsistent the way it’s been enforced. There have been additional complications in relation to the stop-and-frisk policy where there’s claims young people could have a small amount of marijuana in their pocket, where they’re stopped and frisked. The police officer says, ‘Turn out your pockets.’ The marijuana is now in public view. It just went from a violation to a crime.”

New York City prosecutors and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, whose offices handled almost 50,000 such criminal cases last year, endorsed the Democratic governor’s plan. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the bill largely mirrors the city police directive issued last year for officers to issue violations, not misdemeanors, “for small amounts of marijuana that come into open view during a search.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said it will help them redirect limited resources to serious crime, and key Assembly Democrats expressed support. Some opposition is expected in the state Senate’s Republican majority, where a spokesman said they will review the measure once Cuomo submits it.

Possession of less than 25 grams was reduced in state law to a violation in 1977, subject to a ticket and fine. If the pot is burning or in public view, it rises to a misdemeanor that leads to an arrest. Cuomo’s proposal differs from pending Assembly and Senate bills because it leaves public pot smoking as a criminal misdemeanor.

Cuomo acknowledged the existing approach disproportionately affects minority youths, with 94 percent of arrests in New York City, more than half of those arrested younger than 25 and 82 percent either black or Hispanic.


Cuomo Wants to Decriminalize 'Public Display' of Marijuana, by Jacob Sullum,, June 4, 2012

Responding to the bogus pot busts associated with the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging the state legislature to decriminalize the "public display" of marijuana. Although possessing up to 25 grams (nearly an ounce) of marijuana has been a citable offense similar to a traffic violation in New York since 1977, having marijuana "burning or open to public view" remains a Class B misdemeanor, justifying an arrest. Research by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine indicates that New York City police commonly convert the former offense into the latter by instructing people they stop to remove any contraband they have from their pockets or bags (or by removing it themselves in the course of a pat-down ostensibly aimed at discovering weapons). “Now it’s in public view,” Levine explains to The New York Times. “If you go by the police reports, all around New York City, there are people standing around with their palms outstretched with a bit of marijuana in them."

A spokesman for Cuomo says "this proposal will bring long overdue consistency and fairness to New York State’s Penal Law and save thousands of New Yorkers, particularly minority youth, from the unnecessary and life-altering trauma of a criminal arrest and, in some cases, prosecution." He adds that it would avoid "countless man-hours wasted" on arrests and prosecutions "for what is clearly only a minor offense." Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, notes that pot arrests impose a lasting burden even when the charges ultimately are dropped or dismissed (as usually happens): "For individuals who have any kind of a record, even a minuscule one, the obstacles are enormous to employment and to education. When it’s really a huge number of kids in the community who go through this, and all have the same story, the impact is just devastating."

The bogus busts are especially outrageous because the stops that precede them, which supposedly are justified by "reasonable suspicion" of recent, ongoing, or imminent criminal activity, may be illegal as well.


Police officer reaches into a man's pocket on Broadway in Harlem. Photo by Jazz Hayden


"Plan to Reduce Pot Arrests" by Sean Gardiner, Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2012

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City law-enforcement officials on Monday threw their support behind Gov. Andrew Cuomo's effort to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view—a move proponents said would reduce the number of young minority men arrested.

Mr. Cuomo's proposal would still allow people to be arrested if they are smoking marijuana in public but not for simply displaying less than 25 grams. Under current law, possessing 25 grams or less—about seven-eighths of an ounce—is a violation for which police can write a summons and issue a $100 fine for first-time offenders, while displaying the same amount publicly can result in an arrest and a misdemeanor charge.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said at an Albany news conference Monday that the proposal "is about creating fairness and consistency in our laws since there is a blatant inconsistency in the way we deal with small amounts of marijuana."

The NYPD made 50,668 arrests on low-level marijuana charges in 2011, the highest number since the administration of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Critics charge that more than 80% of those arrested for the charge of possession of marijuana in the fifth degree have been black and Latino, and that many were tricked into displaying their drugs publicly by police officers ordering them to empty their pockets during stops....

Mr. Cuomo said the stop-and-frisk policy "aggravates the situation" with low-level pot arrests. However, he stopped short of calling for the tactic's end.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said Mr. Cuomo's proposal would prevent many unwarranted arrests but she said the number of such police stops—last year they topped 685,000—would be reduced only if there is a "fundamental overhaul in police training and practices coming from the top." Critics of stop-and-frisk say it has strained relations between police and minority communities, where the tactic is primarily used.

Further decriminalization of marijuana would help young minority men avoid getting early arrest records. "These arrests have significant consequences that can be damaging and life-altering," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies, the Brooklyn Democrat who sponsored the bill.  Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said prosecuting such cases is a "drain on our office's resources." He said the new law would "allow us to redirect significant resources to the most serious criminals and crime problems."

Harry Levine, a Queens College professor who wrote a study on the city's low-level marijuana arrests, said he fears the proposal could allow police officers to save time on processing low-level marijuana arrests, allowing them to increase the number of violations issued."The 50,000 [marijuana] arrests could easily turn into 100,000 summonses with mandatory court appearances and everything else," he said. He said the summonses, which can have serious legal ramifications, shouldn't be equated to traffic tickets: "I'd say it is more like misdemeanor-lite."


"Cuomo Seeks Cut in Frisk Arrests"  By Thomas Kaplan, New York Times, June 3, 2012

Wading into the debate over stop-and-frisk police tactics, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to ask legislators on Monday for a change in New York State law that would drastically reduce the number of people who could be arrested for marijuana possession as a result of police stops. The governor will call for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view, administration officials said. Advocates of such a change say the offense has ensnared tens of thousands of young black and Latino men who are stopped by the New York City police for other reasons but after being instructed to empty their pockets, find themselves charged with a crime.

Reducing the impact of the Bloomberg administration’s stop-and-frisk policy has been a top priority of lawmakers from minority neighborhoods, who have urged Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, to pay more attention to the needs of their communities. The lawmakers argue that young men found with small amounts of marijuana are being needlessly funneled into the criminal justice system and have difficulty finding jobs as a result....

“For individuals who have any kind of a record, even a minuscule one, the obstacles are enormous to employment and to education,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “When it’s really a huge number of kids in the community who go through this, and all have the same story, the impact is just devastating.”

The police in New York City made 50,684 arrests last year for possession of a small amount of marijuana, more than for any other offense, according to an analysis of state data by Harry G. Levine, a sociologist at Queens College.  The arrests continued — one in seven arrests made in the city was for low-level marijuana possession — even as Commissioner Kelly issued his directive.

Mr. Bloomberg has opposed ending arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. His administration has argued that the arrests serve to reduce more serious crime by deterring drug dealing and the violence that can accompany the drug trade. A spokesman for the mayor declined to comment Sunday.

Mr. Cuomo plans to announce his support for the change at a news conference at the Capitol. While his push comes late in the year’s legislative session, which is scheduled to end June 21, the governor has been successful in his first 17 months in office at focusing attention on a limited number of legislative priorities and persuading lawmakers to address them quickly.

“This proposal will bring long overdue consistency and fairness to New York State’s Penal Law and save thousands of New Yorkers, particularly minority youth, from the unnecessary and life-altering trauma of a criminal arrest and, in some cases, prosecution,” an administration official said in an e-mail.

It would also save law enforcement “countless man-hours wasted” on arrests and prosecutions “for what is clearly only a minor offense,” the official added.

In New York, the Legislature in 1977 reduced the penalty for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana to a violation, which carries a maximum fine of $100 for first-time offenders. But it remains a misdemeanor if the marijuana is in public view or is being smoked in public, and lawmakers and drug-reform advocates have argued that the misdemeanor charge is often unfairly applied to suspects who did not have marijuana in public view until the police stopped them and told them to empty their pockets.

“Now it’s in public view,” Professor Levine said. “If you go by the police reports, all around New York City, there are people standing around with their palms outstretched with a bit of marijuana in them.”

From 2002 to 2011, New York City recorded 400,000 low-level marijuana arrests, according to his analysis. That represented more arrests than under Mr. Bloomberg’s three predecessors put together — a period of 24 years. Most of those arrested have been young black and Hispanic men, and most had no prior criminal convictions.

Mr. Cuomo’s action comes after a number of state legislators and City Council members, many of them representing neighborhoods with large minority populations, have sought ways to force change at the Police Department.



"The Whole System Relies on These Arrests": The NYPD's Racist Marijuana Arrest Crusade And Its National Implications, By Alexander Zaitchik,  Alternet and American Independent News Network, May 15, 2012


Every morning, several sheets of paper are posted to the walls outside the arraignment rooms of New York City’s Borough Courts. They list the names of the accused scheduled to appear before the judge and the legal codes of their offenses. On most days and across the city’s five boroughs, these lists include multiple names next to the numbers 221.10. This is the legal code for the misdemeanor charge of possessing small amounts of marijuana “open to public view,” meaning the public display or public smoking of pot. In 2010, more than 50,000 New Yorkers were arrested for violating 221.10. The number represented 15 percent of all arrests made by the NYPD and allowed the city to keep its crown of Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World.


Not that there is a credible challenger for the dubious honor. The high number of 221.10 arrests puts New York in a league of its own and has become a lightning rod in the national debate over race and the war on drugs. New York’s marijuana arrests, says a growing chorus of critics, are a prime example of how the nation’s drug laws disproportionately impact black and Latino communities.


New York’s marijuana arrests, says a growing chorus of critics, are a prime example of how the nation’s drug laws disproportionately impact black and Latino communities


This is decreasingly a matter of accusation and anecdote. Hard data are emerging that confirm what marijuana reform advocates and public defenders have long maintained: That the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy in high-crime neighborhoods — sold to the public as a way to find illegal guns and reduce violent crime — has instead resulted in racially uneven drug law enforcement practices that seem to violate the spirit and the letter of New York law as well as the United States Constitution.


New York is emblematic of a national problem. Extreme racial skews are also reflected in the marijuana arrest statistics of major cities across the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago to the District of Columbia.


New York has emerged as America’s marijuana arrest capital only in the last 15 years. For nearly two decades after New York’s “public view” law was passed, the law was enforced more or less as intended. This changed with the mayoral election of Rudolph Giuliani in 1994. The former U.S. Attorney’s brain trust included advisors connected to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank whose fellows James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in the early 1980s developed the “broken windows” theory of policing and crime reduction. Backers of the theory posited that police should increase foot patrols in high-crime neighborhoods and focus on misdemeanors, as well as employ pre-emptive tactics such as stop-and-frisks instead of waiting for reported crime. The NYPD began stopping people and demanding they empty their pockets, or forcibly doing it for them. They found some guns, but many more small bags of marijuana that had not been in plain view before the search, and thus should not have been the basis for arrest. The number of pot arrests began a historic decade-long climb.


But it is under the supposedly “centrist” administration of Michael Bloomberg that the number of arrests has once again spiked. Critics allege that under Bloomberg and Giuliani-holdover police chief Ray Kelly, stop-and-frisk policies were maintained as a shortcut for meeting unofficial quotas, which occasionally surface in scandal. Because it has become so ingrained in police practice since the mid-1990s, attempts to end or curb the controversial policy must contend with the full weight of institutional and professional inertia within the NYPD.


“The aggressive policing is driven by Departmental requirements,” says Steve Wasserman, a veteran litigation attorney with the Legal Aid Society. “Officers are required to undertake and document enforcement activities on each tour of duty to keep their careers on track.” The precincts in turn use the numbers to meet their own requirements.


“The whole system relies on these arrests, which have been the most common arrest for NYPD for years,” says Jesse Levine. “It’s built into the system. Despite what [Police Chief] Ray Kelly may want us to believe, it’s not a superficial aspect of police policy, but their bread and butter up and down the chain.”



"Whites Can't Get Arrested in NYC:  Police Refuse to Arrest White Protesters at Police Headquarters," by Jesse Levine, Huffington Post, May 14, 2012


Nine white activists blocked the entrance of the NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza, on Saturday, May 12, drawing attention to the city's ever-increasing, racially-skewed marijuana possession arrests. After plopping themselves down to block the entrance, with banners unfurled and 200 supporters chanting, "No Justice, No Peace," six, young, uniformed officers stood stony faced, unmoved, and made no arrests.


Before the act of civil disobedience, City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Letitia James spoke to the crowd about the harm and outrage caused by stop and frisks, marijuana possession arrests, and other police practices in their districts.


Speakers said the NYPD divides New York into a white city and a black and Latino city -- with much more aggressive policing for blacks and Latinos. City Council members and other speakers called for an end to racist police practices and demanded more accountability and community control over the NYPD.


One protestor, Sam Haar, a white musician living in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said, "I see police stopping and searching young people of color in my neighborhood, but I never see police stopping young white people."


New studies from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) confirm these observations and show widespread patterns of discrimination in the use of stop and frisks. The NYCLU found that the NYPD's own data show that the NYPD make more stops and frisks of young black men than there are young black men living in New York City. Stephen Colbert reported this and concluded that the NYPD was arresting black space invaders....


Although young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks and Latinos, police arrest blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the rate of whites, and Latinos at four times the rate of whites. In other words, blacks and Latinos are more likely to be arrested by the NYPD for an offense they are less likely to commit.


Seven months ago the NYPD arrested Cornell West, the African-American professor from Princeton, for blocking the entrance to a New York police station to protest the city's stop and frisks. Inspired by Cornell West's action, white activists at the rally in front of police headquarters sat down and blocked the entrance to One Police Plaza, expecting to get arrested for their civil disobedience.


As the crowd began to understand that the police would not arrest these white demonstrators, sitting down in solidarity with black arrestees, some people started to yell, "What do white people have to do to get arrested in this city!"





"Two Cities" protest and rally about marijuana arrests and stop and frisks at One Police Plaza, May 2012




"Tale of Two Cities: NYPD's Racist Arrests Create Class War in New York"  By Kristen Gwynne, AlterNet, May 13, 2012


While privately possessing pot has been decriminalized for 35 years in New York, marijuana “in public view” -- burning or held visibly -- is an arrestable, finger-printable crime. What’s worse is that investigations by various news sources and academics alike have revealed that many of these kids deserve a much lesser charge.  During stop-and-frisks, researchers found, police often reach their hands into the pockets or bags of suspects. Sometimes they find marijuana, and while the charge should be a decriminalized possession, police charge suspects with the more serious offense of marijuana “in public view,” even though police had to search them to find it. Stop-and-frisk has increased by 600 percent since Bloomberg’s first year in office. 


Commissioner Kelly inadvertently admitted that police were making illegal marijuana arrests this fall, when he sent an internal memo to officers telling them to follow the law, and only arrest people for marijuana “in public view” if officers did not engage in action to put it there. But Kelly’s memo resulted in little change. Marijuana arrests dropped only 13 percent, and 2011 still saw more marijuana arrests than 2010. Last year, in fact, held the record for New York City’s second highest marijuana arrests in history. The pot arrest crusade cost New Yorkers an astounding $75 million.


City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said that, despite Kelly’s internal order, “Unfortunately...When it comes to stop-and-frisks, of which marijuana arrests are a subset, we know that those numbers continue to rise.”  She said she is“deeply concerned” with the racial division in New York City policing, and that “We are here to express our outrage, not only as elected officials, but as constituents -- a community disproportionately affected by these racist policies”....


Bloomberg defends the stop-and-frisk tactic as a life-saving tool to prevent gun crimes. But critics point out that less than 2 percent of stop-and-frisks actually turn up guns, and say the consequences are not worth the so-called benefits. “Safety should not come at the expense of our constitutional rights,” said City Councilwoman Letitia James, “You should not designate young African Americans and Latinos ‘suspects.’” James said the NYPD has essentially declared a class war.


“We can no longer accept the price we are paying for a racially biased policing system,” said Kassandra Frederique, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We can no longer allow our tax dollars to be used to criminalize young people of color -- there are better ways to teach our young people to not use marijuana. Today we are demanding that our elected officials fight for a united New York. Telling public officials that their silence speaks volumes and so do our votes. Let’s all work towards one New York where we are all treated with respect.”


Harry Levine, a Queens sociologist responsible for much of the data on racist policing, told AlterNet, “Roughly half of all stops result in frisks, and most of them require a full search,” adding that “The most shocking thing is how routinely police put their hands in people’s pockets -- the amount of blatantly unconstitutional, illegal searches of people’s clothing and possessions.”


Often, in New York, officers’ encounters with black and Latino communities go beyond street stops and into homes. Under Operation Clean Halls, officers are permitted to enter residential buildings, and question or arrest (often for bogus trespassing charges) whomever they want. What’s more, as Levine said at the rally, black and Latino youths are also much more likely to be arrested and ticketed for misdemeanor crimes like disorderly conduct and trespassing....


Activists said they will use the summer, and the months between now and elections in November, to draw attention to their case and rally New Yorkers to vote for a united New York. A silent march, inspired by the NAACP’s 1917 protest of young, brown and black people murdered in St. Louis, is planned for this Father’s Day, June 17. Chino Hardin, an organizer for Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, warned legislators, “If you want us to be there in November, be there for us in June.”


Kelly and Bloomberg -- not individual police officers, organizers said -- are responsible for creating a New York in which skin color, gender, age, and class guarantee incredibly different realities. They call for the ousting of Kelly and Bloomberg, and for the election of New York City legislators willing to stand up against the policies that white civil disobedients called “the new Jim Crow.”




"Weed Fans: Mike Bloomberg's Marijuana Enforcement Practices Are Racist -- Let's Protest" By James King, The Village Voice,  May 9 2012


Officials from the Drug Policy Alliance say the allegedly racist practices of selective enforcement has created a "Tale of Two Cities" -- where white people get away scot free when caught with weed and black people are rounded up and thrown in jail.


"One New York City is for white people, where marijuana possession was decriminalized in 1977, people are seldom stopped and frisked, and mothers do not fear that their teenagers will be rounded up by the police," the group says. "The other New York City is for people of color, where hundreds of thousands of people are stopped even though most were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, tens of thousands are illegally searched, falsely charged, arrested and incarcerated for marijuana possession (even though it's not a crime in New York), and mothers are afraid that the police may unlawfully arrest their young people"....


Advocates say minorities are jailed at a much higher rate than white people who get busted with weed, which has much to do with illegal searches causing people to reveal their weed in public, thus committing a misdemeanor.  The DPA cites a recent New York Times editorial claiming that of the roughly 50,000 people arrested each year in New York for low-level marijuana offenses, 87 percent are black or Hispanic.


In the last five years under the Bloomberg regime, the group says the NYPD made more marijuana arrests than in the twenty-four years under mayors Giuliani, Dinkins and Koch combined. Again, despite marijuana being decriminalized in New York for more than 30 years.


The group says low-level marijuana arrests make up 15-percent of the total arrests made in the five boroughs, which makes marijuana possession the "number one offense" in New York. And those arrests -- and the clogging of the court system they create -- costs New York City $75 million a year.




NYC August. Photo: Ken Stein @ flickr





"The Human Cost of Zero Tolerance"  by Brent Staples, New York Times Editorial, April 18, 2012


There is no proof that the zero-tolerance policing adopted by New York and other cities in the 1990’s had anything to do with the decline in violent crime across the nation. Crime also dropped in jurisdictions that did not use the approach.


Millions of people have been arrested under the policy for minor violations, like possession of small amounts of marijuana. And one thing is beyond dispute: this arrest-first policy has filled the courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders who do not belong there and wreaked havoc with people’s lives. Even when cases are dismissed, people can be shadowed for years by error-ridden criminal records.


The human toll is evident in New York City, where last year 50,000 people — one every 10 minutes — were arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The city downplays the significance, saying these cases are typically dismissed and the record sealed if the person stays out of trouble for a year. But getting tangled in the court system is harrowing. And the record-keeping can be unreliable and far more porous than the city suggests.


An analysis by the Legal Action Center, which assists 2,500 people with criminal records each year, has found that nearly half of its clients’ rap sheets have errors. Defense lawyers say that too often the courts and police fail to report to the state about dismissals and other outcomes favorable to defendants.


As for “sealed” records, background-screening companies working for private employers can harvest data at the time of an arrest and there is no guarantee that they will update to reflect dismissals — or expunge the information when records are sealed by the courts. While it is illegal to exclude people from jobs based solely on arrest or convictions, unless there is a compelling business reason for doing so, many employers quickly write off applicants who are flagged in these databases.


New York City drove up its marijuana arrests — from just under 1,500 in 1980 to more than 50,000 a year today — despite the fact that the State Legislature in 1977 decriminalized possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, making it a violation, roughly akin to a traffic ticket. The problem is that the Legislature made public display of any amount of marijuana a misdemeanor, which can lead to arrest, jail and a record that follows the person for years. And New York’s police have been repeatedly accused of arresting people for possession after forcing them to show “in public” the small amounts they had. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly tacitly admitted this practice last year, directing officers to make an arrest only when the drug really was in view.


Critics say the fact that 87 percent of those arrested are black or Hispanic suggests that the police are deliberately singling out minority citizens for arrests that push some of them permanently to the very margins of society.


An arrest, even without a conviction, can swiftly unleash disastrous personal consequences. Consider the 2011 case of a 26-year-old single mother from Brooklyn whose lawyers say she was arrested after the police forced her to reveal a small packet of marijuana hidden in her purse. The judge said the charges would be dismissed if she stayed out of trouble for a year. A week later, the woman had been fired from her job as a janitor with the New York City Housing Authority. She has not been rehired.


The city’s Housing Authority convenes a termination hearing when a tenant is arrested. The authority says no one is evicted for low-level marijuana arrests “in and of themselves.” But Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society, which represents 30,000 people in minor marijuana arrests a year, says these cases often end with the leaseholder ejecting the person arrested — perhaps a son or grandson — to avoid eviction. People convicted of some misdemeanors cannot apply for public housing for three years; those convicted of violations are ineligible for two years.


Young parents have faced neglect accusations in family court after marijuana arrests, even if they are not ultimately charged with any crime. In a case described in The Times, a woman’s son and niece were removed from her home by child welfare workers after police found about a third of an ounce of marijuana — below the threshold for a misdemeanor — in a boyfriend’s backpack in her Bronx apartment. The district attorney declined to prosecute, but the children spent time in foster care, and her niece was not returned for over a year.


New York City’s overly zealous marijuana arrests, coupled with the unreliability and porousness of record-keeping, damage the lives of tens of thousands of people a year. The Legislature needs to fix this. It must drop the public-display distinction for marijuana, which invites far too many abuses. It should also press law enforcement officials and the court system to make sure that criminal records are more accurate to start with and that people who are victimized by errors have a plausible way of getting them corrected.


Employers and government agencies also have a responsibility here. They must not rush to their own judgment about minor offenders.


Mayor Michael Bloomberg needs to recognize that zero-tolerance policing is not the panacea his Police Department seems to think it is. The police need to spend more time tracking down serious crime and less on minor offenses. There is nothing minor about a record that can follow people for the rest of their lives.




"Stop Making Criminals Out of Young People"  by Edward Koch,  April 26, 2012

Edward Koch was the 105th mayor of New York City for three terms, from 1978 to 1989. He previously served for nine years as a congressman.


In 1977 in New York, personal possession and use of marijuana were decriminalized. So why were 525,000 people arrested for such possession and use since then?


In 1977, I was the principal congressional sponsor in the House of Representatives of legislation that created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. The commission examined the aspects of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. The commission which became known as the Shafer Commission recommended decriminalization for personal use and possession of marijuana in a limited amount.


Eight or nine states, New York being one of them, accepted the report and according to The New York Times in its editorial of April 2, “Under the 1977 law, possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana is a violation, subject to a $100 fine for the first offense. But possession of any amount that is in public view is a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. Civil rights lawyers say that many of those stopped by city police were arrested after officers told them to empty their pockets, which brought the small amount of drugs into view.”


However, reports the editorial, “Marijuana arrests declined after passage of the 1977 law, but that changed in the 1990s. Between 1997 and 2010, the city arrested 525,000 people for low-level, public-view possession, according to a legislative finding.”


In effect, the editorial is stating the arresting cop can cause the offense to become a misdemeanor by requiring the individual to empty his pockets and publicly display the marijuana. This is an outrage, if The Times is correct. Even if the public display is otherwise inadvertent or the foolish act of a person, particularly a young person, it should not constitute a criminal act.


The issue has heated up because as The Times editorial pointed out, “80 percent of those arrested in the city are black and Latino, despite substantial data showing that whites are more likely to use the drug.”


The answer is obvious. The state legislature should make public possession of a small amount for personal use a violation instead of a misdemeanor. Violations are not listed as crimes.  Let’s stop making criminals out of our young men and women, giving them criminal records which will prevent them from getting jobs and ruin their lives.




"New Study By Bronx Public Defenders Claims NYPD Cops Made Hundreds Of Unlawful Marijuana Arrests"   By Daniel Beekman, New York Daily News, April 3, 2012


Bronx cops made hundreds of unlawful marijuana arrests and trumped-up charges over a five-month period last year despite a warning from Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, claims a study by the Bronx Defenders.  The study released Friday shows that illegal stops and searches are an “epidemic” in the Bronx, said Robin Steinberg, Bronx Defenders executive director.  Her organization interviewed 518 people apprehended for marijuana possession from May to October 2011 and found that 41% had their rights violated.  In 176 cases, there was no cause for people to be detained, and in 184, the organization concluded that cops "manufactured" misdemeanor charges by forcing people to show their pot.  Nearly all the people arrested for marijuana possession in the Bronx are black and Latino men. The cases reveal "a policing strategy that overwhelmingly and disproportionately targets young people of color and relies on rampant disregard for the civil rights of the people the NYPD is charged with protecting," the organization said in a statement.




"Examining Marijuana Arrests",  New York Times Editorial, April 2, 2012

The New York State Legislature showed good sense when it exempted people convicted of low-level marijuana possession from having to submit DNA to the state database, unless they have been convicted of a previous crime. Still, the state must do more to curb the arrests of tens of thousands of people each year in New York City for minor possession of marijuana, despite a 1977 state law that decriminalized it.

State data show that the New York Police Department arrested more than 50,000 people last year for low-level possession, with about 30 percent having no prior arrest record. More than 11,700 of those arrested were 16- to 19-year-olds; nearly half had never been arrested before and 94 percent had no prior convictions.... Civil rights lawyers say that many of those stopped by city police were arrested after officers told them to empty their pockets, which brought the small amount of drugs into view.

The Bronx Defenders, a public defender agency in that borough, reported last week that it had examined the cases of 518 people arrested for low-level possession in 2011 and concluded that 40 percent of them were unlawfully arrested or charged.

Marijuana arrests declined after passage of the 1977 law, but that changed in the 1990s. Between 1997 and 2010, the city arrested 525,000 people for low-level, public-view possession, according to a legislative finding. Lawmakers and civil rights lawyers are rightly outraged that more than 80 percent of those arrested in the city are black and Latino, despite substantial data showing that whites are more likely to use the drug. Bills pending in both the Senate and the Assembly could help reduce the inequity in the law by making public possession of a small amount a violation instead of a misdemeanor.




"Bogus Pot Arrests Rise In NYC - Commissioner Kelly's Memo Proves Ineffective and Unenforced" by Ryan Devereaux, The Guardian (UK), Alternet. March 30, 2012

also at:


Police officers in New York are "manufacturing" criminal offenses by forcing people with small amounts of marijuana to reveal their drugs, according to a survey by public defenders. Nearly half of New Yorkers picked up for small amounts of marijuana possession in recent months were not displaying the drug before they were stopped, the study shows, despite an order by New York police chief Ray Kelly that officers should not charge people in such circumstances. The revelations will fuel criticisms of the NYPD's controversial "stop and frisk" policy, which opponents say is criminalising a generation of young people from ethnic minorities and leading to tensions between police and the public...

In September last year, Kelly issued an order to officers not to arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana. But the number of those arrested increased after the order was made. In all, about 50,000 people were arrested in 2011 for marijuana possession; some 30,000 of these came after police stops..... According to the survey, the percentage of illegal stop-and-frisks increased from 31% before the order to 44% after the order. Similarly, the percentage of manufactured misdemeanors increased from 33% to 44%. One in three respondents said police had forced them to take the marijuana out of pockets or from under clothes and produce it into public view.



Vinci was illegally searched and then arrested for $5 of marijuana on Superbowl Sunday

Video shot by Alexander Hotz, edited by Alice Brennan




"Study: NYPD Violating Kelly Edict To End Improper Marijuana Arrests" New York World, by Alice Brennan and Michael Keller, March 30, 2012

Six months after New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered all police officers under his command to cease arresting people carrying marijuana, many are still being handcuffed and sent to jail after officers coerce or trick them into displaying the drug. That’s the conclusion of a close review of 517 cases by Bronx Defenders, a criminal defense and legal advocacy organization, which found that nearly half of those picked up for small amounts of marijuana possession in recent months were not displaying the drug before they were stopped. Scott Levy, an attorney at the Bronx Defenders, the legal and advocacy organization that led the survey, said: “This is clearly an illegal practice"....



NYC, Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World? Activists Rally at Bloomberg's Apartment Over Illegal, Racist Pot Arrests, by Phillip Smith, Drug War Chronicle, Alternet, March 30, 2012.

New York City has the dubious -- and well-earned -- reputation as the world's marijuana arrest capital, with more than 50,000 people being arrested for pot possession there last year alone at an estimated cost of $75 million. It also has a mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has famously said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, yet who presides over a police force that has run roughshod over the state's marijuana decriminalization law in order to make those arrests, almost all of which are of members of the city's black and brown minority communities.

On Thursday, activists and concerned citizens organized as the New Yorkers for Health & Safety campaign marched to the mayor's home, an apartment building in Manhattan's Upper East Side, to call him on his hypocrisy, chastise the NYPD for its racially-skewed stop-and-frisk policing, and demand that the city quit wasting tens of millions a dollar a year on low-level marijuana arrests even as it proposes cuts to other vital New York City services.




Rally at Mayor Bloomberg's home, March 29, 2012     Photo: Drug Policy Alliance




"Data Shows Percentage of Wrongful Marijuana Arrests Rose After Kelly's Order: Bronx Public Defenders" By Ailsa Chang, WNYC, March 29, 2012

Public defenders in the Bronx said more than 40 percent of the marijuana arrests they investigated in their borough between May and October 2011 show violations of constitutional rights and problems with evidence. Many of these unlawful arrests, defense lawyers said, were made after an internal NYPD order was issued directing all officers to follow the law when making marijuana arrests. The Bronx Defenders, a public defender organization in the South Bronx, and the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP spent the past several months interviewing more than 500 clients arrested for low-level marijuana possession in every precinct in the Bronx between last May and October. In a written statement issued Thursday, they concluded that more than 200 of the cases they studied present “clear constitutional and evidentiary problems stemming primarily from unconstitutional searches and seizures and improper charging of clients by the NYPD.”



"Police Powers in New York" New York Times Editorial, March 17, 2012


The Police Department’s tendency toward blanket surveillance is on vivid display in its stop-and-frisk program, which results in the stopping of more than 600,000 mainly minority citizens on the streets every year. The department credits the program with reducing crime, but there is no proof that it does. A study carried out in connection with a federal lawsuit against the department has found that only about 6 percent of stops result in arrest and that less than 1 percent turn up weapons. In addition to criminalizing the victims of these stops, the program has undermined respect for law enforcement in the very communities where it is most needed.


Like stop-and-frisk, the city’s marijuana arrest initiative has also raised profound civil rights concerns. The state decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana 35 years ago and decreed that people would be arrested for those amounts only if they were displaying the drug in public. Even so, the city arrests tens of thousands of mainly black and Latino young people for possession every year. The department tacitly admitted wrongdoing last year, in a memo telling officers to arrest people only if the drug was in plain public view. But it could take years before the rank and file embrace the change.


The city has described the marijuana arrests as a way of getting criminals off the street. But state data show that a majority of people arrested under this program have no prior convictions. The dangers associated with the program were underscored last month in the Bronx when an overzealous drug detail pursued an unarmed teenager into his home and shot him to death. A packet of marijuana was found at the scene.



“City Has Highest Number of Marijuana Arrests in More Than a Decade” by Ailsa Chang, WNYC, February 01, 2012  [Text and four-minute NPR  news story here]


Last year, New York City police officers made the greatest number of marijuana arrests in more than a decade, according to new state records.


The NYPD arrested about 50,700 people for low-level marijuana possession in 2011, a figure that comes just months after the department ordered officers not make arrests for marijuana possession if the marijuana was never in public view. 


Defense lawyers and law enforcement experts say they don't think the order has done much to change what they believe to be unlawful police behavior on the streets....


For years, there have been allegations that officers force people to display their marijuana in public view before arresting them  -- by either ordering people to empty their pockets or reaching into pockets and pulling marijuana out themselves. Kelly's order plainly stated that an officer may not arrest someone for a misdemeanor in those cases. 


"I would say that about half of the marijuana arrest cases that I see are actually mischarged misdemeanors,” said Legal Aid lawyer Renate Lunn, “and, in fact, even the court papers say that the marijuana was recovered from some place that wasn't in public view, such as a sock or a backpack or the glove compartment of a car.”


Lawyers elsewhere in the city are seeing similar percentages of what they think are improper arrests. Scott Levy of the Bronx Defenders is heading up the Marijuana Arrest Project, which is systematically collecting data on the quality of marijuana arrests they're seeing throughout the Bronx. 


"I would say as much as 40 percent of these cases stem from illegal searches, illegal stops of our clients, and the mischarging of our clients where clients are charged with the misdemeanor of possessing marijuana in public view where they only actually possessed it in their pocket," he said.
















"Last year, more than 50,000 misdemeanor marijuana arrests flooded the courts in New York City. It’s now by far the most common misdemeanor charge in the city."  - Ailsa Chang, WNYC, Feb 1, 2012


Photo: Karly Domb Sadof, WNYC







“Marijuana Arrests Rose in 2011, Despite Police Directive” by Andy Newman, New York Times, February 1, 2012


Low-level arrests for marijuana possession in New York City increased for the seventh straight year in 2011, according to a study released Wednesday — despite a September memorandum from the police commissioner that reminded officers to follow the letter of the law and not arrest people with the drug unless they have it in plain view.


Though arrests dropped significantly after Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly’s memorandum, an increase of over 6 percent during the first eight months of the year more than offset the decline, according to the analysis, conducted by a Queens College sociology professor and released by the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group critical of police marijuana-arrest policies.


The year-end arrest total was 50,684, up 0.6 percent from 2010, the study found, constituting more arrests than in the entire 19-year period 1978 to 1996 combined. Marijuana possession was once again the largest arrest category in the city last year, and the arrests cost the city about $75 million, said Harry G. Levine, the sociologist who did the analysis.


The high numbers of marijuana arrests under the Bloomberg administration have been linked by critics to the police’s stop-and-frisk practices and disproportionate enforcement against blacks and Hispanics.


While state law makes possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana an arrestable misdemeanor offense only when someone has it in public view, critics say that officers routinely make people they “stop and frisk” empty their pockets, then arrest them for having marijuana in public view.


The vast majority of those stopped and frisked are black or Hispanic. And under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, from 2002 to 2010, about 87 percent of those arrested for marijuana were black or Hispanic, while only 10 percent were white, according to a breakdown on Dr. Levine’s Web site based on data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.


“It is worth remembering and pointing out that U.S. government studies consistently find that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks and Latinos,” Dr. Levine said in a statement. “But the police patrols, stop and frisks, and arrest quotas are highest in black and Latino neighborhoods, and that is where the N.Y.P.D. makes most marijuana possession arrests. Mayor Bloomberg is like the Energizer bunny of marijuana arrests – he just keeps going and going and going.”




“Pot arrests top 50K in 2011 despite NYPD order” by Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press, Feb 1, 2012 (over a hundred papers across the US carried this AP story)


New York City police still arrested more than 50,000 people on low-level marijuana charges last year despite a drop off after officers were told not to use tactics that critics decry as tricking people into getting arrested, according to New York state data obtained by an advocacy group.  In fact, 2011 arrests for the lowest-ranking marijuana misdemeanor rose slightly, from about 50,400 to 50,700, the New York Division of Criminal Justice figures show.


The continued slew of pot arrests came as the drug policy group and some elected officials trained attention on the low-level marijuana charges that account for more arrests in the city than any other crime. Almost 35 years after state lawmakers raised the bar for booking people instead of ticketing them on marijuana-possession charges, these arrests account for about one in every seven cases in the city's criminal courts.


The arrests have soared in the last 10 years. With the 2011 numbers, the New York Police Department has made more than 227,000 bottom-rung marijuana possession arrests in the last five years — slightly more than the entire span from 1978 to 2001, according to an analysis by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine....


Stephen Glover said he was standing outside a Bronx job-training center in November, sharing a box of mints with friends, when police came up to him, asked him whether he had anything in his pockets that could hurt them and searched them without asking his permission. They found the remains of two marijuana cigarettes in his pockets, he said."They just take it upon themselves" to search, the 30-year-old Glover said by phone Wednesday....


 The Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit legal group, still hears plenty of accounts like Glover's, lawyer Scott D. Levy said. "Our clients are still regularly stopped, searched, and marijuana is recovered from their pocket, but at no point where they having it out, smoking it," he said. But most take a dismissal deal or plead guilty to a violation, rather than demand a hearing that generally comes after months of court dates and prolongs a case that can compromise job prospects, he said.  "So the vast majority of cases are pleading out before a hearing is ever held and these issues are really aired," Levy said....


Marijuana is the nation's most commonly used illegal drug. Use has declined among those 19 and older since the late 1970s, began to rise again in the early 1990s but not hit '70s levels, according to the latest installment of Monitoring the Future, a government-funded study conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. To the drug-policy advocates, the trend suggests the surge in New York City pot busts stems from the stop-and-frisk strategy, rather than reflecting drug use. More than a half a million people, mostly black and Hispanic men, were stopped in 2010. About 10 percent of stops result in arrests.


Meanwhile, two state lawmakers have proposed to make it a violation, rather than a misdemeanor, to possess less than 25 grams or about 7/8 of an ounce of marijuana, whether it's in the open or not.


"New York remains in a fiscal crisis, and we simply cannot afford to arrest tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens for possessing small amounts of marijuana - especially when so many of these arrests are the result of illegal searches or false charges," Sen. Mark Grisanti said in a statement Wednesday. The Republican, who's a criminal defense lawyer, is sponsoring the proposal with Democratic Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries.


It's difficult to put a price tag on the city's arrests, but Levine has estimated it cost an estimated $75 million in 2011 to process, jail and prosecute the low-level arrests in New York. That figure was a compilation of estimated court costs, police manpower and jail time, averaging about $1,500 per arrest — a cost shared by the state and city. The city budget alone is $65 billion.

"These bogus arrests continue in spite of the current law and despite Commissioner Kelly's operations order," said Gabriel Sayegh, the Drug Policy Alliance's director for New York state. He called on state and federal authorities to investigate.




"Hypocritical NYPD Continues Racist Pot Arrest Crusade," By Steven Wishnia, Alternet, Dec 30, 2011


Despite a well-publicized police order instructing officers not to use bogus pretexts to justify marijuana arrests, New York City remains the pot-bust capital of the United States.... The department had come under criticism because the basis for many pot busts was that defendants had emptied their pockets when told to do so by police — and when they did, they brought their marijuana into “public view.” 


In practice, little has changed, say defense attorneys and legalization advocates. “It still is happening a lot,” says Sydney Peck, a Brooklyn public defender. “A police officer pulls marijuana out of someone’s pocket, and all of a sudden, it’s marijuana in public view”.... 


To be prosecuted for marijuana in public view, explains Odalys Alonzo, chief assistant to Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, the defendant has to be observed either smoking in public or displaying a glassine or plastic package that police recognize as marijuana. “Sometimes, we see three people charged for one joint, because we’ve seen them passing a joint,” she says.... 


“The volume seems to have kept up,” says Scott Levy, a lawyer with the Bronx Defenders, a public-defender group. The biggest change since Kelly’s announcement, Levy suspects, may be in how complaints are phrased. Police, he says, are increasingly reporting that they saw a defendant “take an object and put it in their pocket” and then found it to be marijuana when they searched them, but “our clients are saying that they never had it out.”


Joshua Saunders, a staff attorney at the Brooklyn Defenders Society, another public-defender group, says he’s seen a lot of “dropsy” cases, in which police say they saw the defendant drop the marijuana on the ground. He points out the police report of a man busted for three bags of pot in the Brownsville neighborhood in November. It says the officer observed the man on the sidewalk in front of a bodega “in possession of a quantity of marihuana which was open to public view and which informant recovered from defendant’s pants pocket.” Saunders wonders if the man had “transparent pants.”




Associated Press, "A Little Pot Is Trouble In NYC: 50k Busts A Year" by Colleen Long, November 5, 2011  (over a hundred papers across the US carried this AP story)

There are more arrests for low-level pot possession in New York City — about 50,000 a year — than any other crime, accounting for about one of every seven cases that turn up in criminal courts.... Critics say the deluge has been driven in part by the New York Police Department's strategy of stopping people and frisking [them].... More than a half a million people, mostly black and Hispanic men, were stopped last year — unfair targets, critics say.

Bronx community organizer Alfredo Carrasquillo, 27, estimated he's been arrested on marijuana possession charges more than 20 times, starting when he was 14 and police ordered him to empty out his pockets outside his high school. He says he was arrested, but was never found smoking the drug or holding it out in the open — though a 1977 state law says those with 25 grams of the drug or less in their pockets or bags should only be ticketed.... "We weren't stupid enough to smoke it in the middle of the day," he said. Gabriel Sayegh, the New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group critical of the national war on drugs, said the department benefits from the arrests. "Every year, they're bringing 50,000 people into their system," he said. "A significant portion of whom have not been arrested before."



New York Times Editorial, "Trouble With Marijuana Arrests," September  26, 2011


 Commissioner Raymond Kelly of the New York Police Department came forth with too little, too late when he issued a memo directing officers not to arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana unless the drug is in plain public view. A 1977 law decriminalized minor possession, yet tens of thousands are arrested every year.   

In 2010, more than 50,000 people were arrested for possession of marijuana; a vast majority of them were racial minorities and male. Civil rights lawyers say that many of them were stopped as part of the Police Department’s broad stop-and-frisk practice and were arrested after officers told them to empty their pockets, which brought the drugs into open view....


Young African-Americans and Hispanics, who are disproportionately singled-out in street stops, make up a high percentage of people arrested for marijuana possession — despite federal data showing that whites are more likely to consume marijuana. This policing practice has damaged young lives and deserves deeper scrutiny by federal and state monitors.



"Young Men's Initiative: The White Mayor's Burden." by Steven Thrasher, The Village Voice, Sept 21, 2011


The prospect that "young men of color, who are hyper-policed in this city" are actually walking around in large groups smoking pot in open view is absurd. So is the notion that poor black males smoke pot more than richer, paler men and women. But still, they get disproportionately arrested because, under Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the NYPD uses controversial UF-250s—"stop-and-frisks"—on them at a record-setting pace.


"I'm a police officer, I come up to you," [Cassandra] Frederique explains as if she were a cop approaching a young man in East New York. "'What are you doing? What's in your pockets? Pull it out.' Once you pull it out, it becomes 'marijuana in plain view.'  And that's when they arrest you."



"Smoke and Horrors, column by Charles M. Blow, New York Times, Oct 22, 2010


The war on drugs in this country has become a war focused on marijuana, one being waged primarily against minorities and promoted, fueled and financed primarily by Democratic politicians....  This is outrageous and immoral and the Democrat’s complicity is unconscionable, particularly for a party that likes to promote its social justice bona fides. No one knows all the repercussions of legalizing marijuana, but it is clear that criminalizing it has made it a life-ruining racial weapon. When will politicians have the courage to stand up, acknowledge this fact and stop allowing young minority men to be collateral damage.



"Escape from New York" column by Charles M. Blow, New York Times, March 18, 2011 


The New York Police Department under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made more of these minor drug arrests than under his previous three predecessors combined. These targeting tactics mean that blacks are arrested for minor drug possession at seven times the rate of whites although on national surveys whites consistently say that they use marijuana more than blacks or Hispanics.





"Drug Bust" column by Charles M. Blow, New York Times, June 10, 2011

The Drug War: An effort meant to save us from a form of moral decay became its own insidious brand of moral perversion — turning people who should have been patients into prisoners, criminalizing victimless behavior, targeting those whose first offense was entering the world wrapped in the wrong skin. It feeds our achingly contradictory tendency toward prudery and our overwhelming thirst for punishment.



"Side Effects of Arrests for Marijuana" By Jim Dwyer, New York Times, June 16, 2011


On average last year, someone was arrested every 10 minutes in New York City for possessing a few pinches of marijuana — less than 25 grams — and no other crime. More arrests, 50,383, were made in 2010 on this charge than on any other, and arrests are being made at an even faster pace this year. “They’re clogging the courts and ruining people’s lives, in terms of potential collateral consequences for housing, employment, immigration,” said Steven Banks, the attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society, which represented 30,000 people in minor marijuana cases last year.



"A Call To Shift Policy on Marijuana" By Jim Dwyer, New York Times, June 14, 2011


More people are arrested in New York City on charges of possessing small amounts of marijuana than on any other crime on the books. Nearly all are black or Latino males under the age of 25, most with no previous convictions. Many have never been arrested before.



"A Smell of Pot and Privilege in the City" By Jim Dwyer, New York Times, July 21, 2010


No city in the world arrests more of its citizens for using pot than New York, according to statistics compiled by Harry G. Levine, a Queens College sociologist. Nearly nine out of ten people charged with violating the law are black or Latino, although national surveys have shown that whites are the heaviest users of pot. Mr. Bloomberg himself acknowledged in 2001 that he had used it, and enjoyed it. 




  Brooklyn’s 73rd Precinct (Ocean Hill - Brownsville)   has the second highest highest marijuana    possession arrest rate in NYC  /   Photo: Todd Heisler, The New York Times




WNYC,  "Alleged Illegal Searches by NYPD May Be Increasing Marijuana Arrests." by Ailsa Chang. April 26, 2011  (excellent 10 minute radio show plus text)


An investigation by WNYC suggests that some police officers may be violating people’s constitutional rights when they are making marijuana arrests. Current and former cops, defense lawyers and more than a dozen men arrested for the lowest-level marijuana possession say illegal searches take place during stop-and-frisks, which are street encounters carried out overwhelmingly on blacks and Latinos.

[Ailsa Chang won a prestigious DuPont Award for radio and television news for this two-part story.]



WNYC,  "Alleged Illegal Searches By NYPD Rarely Challenged in Marijuana Cases." Ailsa Chang. April 27, 2011 (excellent 8 minutes radio show plus text)


More than a dozen men who were arrested in these precincts for misdemeanor marijuana possession told WNYC the police recovered marijuana on them through illegal searches. None of them challenged these allegedly illegal searches in court.



New York Times, California Blacks Split over Pot Arrests - Jesse McKinley, July 19, 2010


This month, the Drug Policy Alliance — a New York group that is supporting Proposition 19 — released a study showing that blacks were arrested for possession at far higher rates than whites in California’s 25 largest counties, often two or three times higher. In those 25 counties, blacks make up 7 percent of the population but accounted for 20 percent of the marijuana possession arrests; in Los Angeles County, which accounts for about a quarter of the state’s population, blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at three times the rate of whites.


"Whites Smoke Pot, but Blacks Are Arrested" by Jim Dwyer, New York Times, Dec 22, 2009


Last year, black New Yorkers were seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession and no more serious crime. Latinos were four times more likely. In 2008, the police made more pot arrests “than in the 12 years of Mayor Koch, plus the four years of Mayor Dinkins, plus the first two years of Mayor Giuliani,” Mr. Levine wrote.  “In other words, in one year, 2008, Bloomberg made more pot arrests than in 18 years of Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani combined.”


 Photo: Horacio Salinas, NY Magazine



"The Splitting Image of Pot" by Marc Jacobson, New York Magazine Sept 21, 2009

On the one hand, marijuana is practically legal - more mainstream,  accessorized, and taken for granted than ever before. On the other, kids are getting busted in the city in record numbers. Guess which kids.



AM New York "High Crimes"  by Jason Fink, Sept 14, 2009

With pot as popular as ever, cops are busting NYers at record levels. 


City Limits – "Hooked: Four decades of drug war in New York City: Marijuana."  By Sean Gardiner - 2009

An excerpt from City Limits Magazine's excellent whole issue on 40 years of the drug war on NY City.  






All links and Articles About Police Commissioner Kelly's September 2011 Order To The NYPD Are Now At The Bottom Of This Page:




On September 23, 2011, Ailsa Chang at WNYC broke the news that NYPD Commissioner Kelly had issued a written order regarding police procedures for arresting people found possessing marijuana. Every news outlet in New York and many national media subsequently covered the story. In his order to the NYPD, Kelly in effect admitted that police officers were in fact violating New York State law: they were arresting people who had marijuana in a pocket or possessions but not "open for public view." Kelly said police should not do that.


Kelly's oder also directly addressed what police officers should do after they had requested, "directed" or "compelled" people to empty their pockets and possessions and found some marijuana.  Kelly's order said that after requesting or compelling people to empty their pockets, police should not arrest those who possessed less than 26 grams (7/8th of an ounce) of marijuana, but should instead write a court appearance summons. 


Kelly's order was praised by many commentators including the editorial boards of the New York Times and the New York Daily News.  A rally at One Police Plaza, with City Council and State Legistlature members, sincerely praised the NYPD for agreeing to obey the law.  Many hoped that Kelly's order would produce a serious decline in the number of marijuana arrests, or even an end to the NYPD's marijuana possession arrest crusade. That did not happen.  


By December, data from the New York State Office of Criminal Justice Services indicated  only a small drop in arrests following Kelly's order. In February 2012 New York State released the official arrest numbers for 2011 which showed that the NYPD had made MORE marijuana possession arrests in 2011 than in 2010, and more than in over a decade: 50,684 arrests for marijuana possession. In March 2012, the Bronx Defenders reported that a study they conducted with a prominent law firm found that at least 40% of the people arrested for marijuana possession had been illegally stopped or searched. And that such illegal arrests had increased since Kelly's order.


At the time of Kelly's order a "breaking news" section was created at Marijuana-Arrests.Com. It is below as kind of historical artifact of a moment of false but sweet hopefulness about the NYPD's reducing and eliminating these expensive,  pointless, and life-damaging arrests. 


Seven months later it is clear that Kelly's order changed nothing. Not one officer has ever been charged, punished, or even reprimanded for arresting people for marijuana found in a pocket, purse or backpack, or for illegally searching people by reaching into their pockets and possessions. In a police department that has repeatedly insisted that it believes strongly in "sending a message," the non-punishment of any kind for illegal marijuana arrests sends a clear message indeed.


And the marijuana possession arrests – legal, quasi-legal, and flat-out unconstitutional – continue.





September 2011:   



December 2011:



February 2012





Source: WNYC with Highcharts / Drawn by John Keefe