NYPD Busts Lots of Pot Smokers Despite Drop in Street Stops

At the end of his first month in office, New York
Mayor Bill de Blasio
he was “ending the overuse of stop-and-frisk that has
unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.” New data
show that the number of street stops by the NYPD
fell dramatically
during the first quarter of this year, when
cops reported 14,261 such encounters, compared to 99,788 in the
first three months of 2013. But that 86 percent drop was not
accompanied by a commensurate reduction in the number of low-level
marijuana arrests, which often result from stops in which police
find pot during pat-downs or instruct people to empty their

According to
from the Marijuana Arrest Research Project (MARP), there
were 7,017 pot busts from January through March this year, just 8.5
percent fewer than the 7,671 during the same period last year.
Marijuana arrests fell substantially during the last two years of
Michael Bloomberg’s administration and continued falling in 2014,
from 2,786 in January to 1,796 in December. The NYPD under its new
commissioner, Bill Bratton, seems to be reversing that downward

In March 2014, the NYPD under de Blasio and Bratton made
more marijuana possession 
arrests than in any
month in the last six months under Bloomberg and [Police
Commissioner Ray] Kelly. 
New York
City’s marijuana possession arrests in the first quarter of
2014 are higher than in the third and fourth quarters of 2013.
In fact, the NYPD made more marijuana possession arrests in
March 2014 than in 10 of the 12 months in 2013.

MARP says Bratton is on track to match the 28,644 pot
busts in 2013. That number was down 43 percent from a peak of
50,484 in 2011 but still above the historical norm. The NYPD
averaged 2,259 minor pot busts each year under Ed Koch and 982
under David Dinkins. Even Rudy Giuliani, who began the pot
that Bloomberg continued and escalated, managed less
than 25,000 a year.

These numbers should embarrass De Blasio, given his talk
of the “two New Yorks” and his opposition to racially biased
policies. As usual, the overwhelming majority of marijuana
arrestees in the first quarter of this year (86 percent) were
blacks or Hispanics, even though survey data indicate that whites
are at least as likely to smoke pot. Most were men, and 70 percent
were between the ages of 16 and 29. MARP notes that police made one
arrest on the Upper East Side and four on the Upper West Side,
compared to 111 in Bedford-Stuyvesant and 438 in East New

These disparities have something to do with how the NYPD
allocates its resources, of course, and they may also have to do
with different rates of outdoor pot smoking. Contrary to the
impression you might get from all these small-time pot busts,
simple possession of marijuana (up to 25 grams, about nine-tenths
of an ounce) was “decriminalized” in New York state nearly four
decades ago. It is supposed to be a citable offense, meaning you
cannot be arrested for it. But “public display” of
marijuana—consuming or holding it in open sight—remains a

It’s not clear how many of the 7,000 or so New Yorkers
arrested for public display during the first three months of this
year were actually guilty of it, and how many were
illegally tricked or coerced
into revealing marijuana that
otherwise would have remained concealed. Either way, police should
have better things to do, especially given the racial and
socioeconomic distribution of these arrests, which even if
unintended seems a far cry from equal treatment under the law. Gov.
Andrew Cuomo
decriminalizing public display, and so do many state
legislators (although not enough to
pass a bill
yet). But De Blasio and Bratton do not have to wait
for new legislation. They can tell cops to stop clogging the
criminal justice system with these petty, unfair, gratuitous, and
frequently illegal arrests.

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