New York City Won’t Stop Using the Guise of Weed Arrests to Discriminate Against People of Color

Earlier this month, in the aftermath of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ promise that he would continue his crusade against state-legalized cannabis, one unlikely detractor emerged from the shadows to chastise the leader of our nation’s Department of Justice.

While this tweet’s content is actually on point, the source is extremely troubling, as Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, has discriminatory law enforcement vendettas in his own backyard to worry about before he gets on his high-horse about cannabis legalization.

Last year around this time, we told you that New York City saw a rise in marijuana possession arrests for the first time in five years. If you expected things to get better in 2017, as we did, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

It seems Mayor de Blasio knows so much about how the War on Drugs affects communities of color because New York, one of the largest cities in the world, has a history of  discriminately arresting Black and Hispanic residents for marijuana possession — even after the Mayor vowed in 2013 to drastically reduce the number of marijuana possession arrests in the city.

“I think the fact that you will see fewer unnecessary arrests will be good for New York City as a whole. It will be good for New Yorkers of color and young people of color—there is no question about that,” de Blasio said during a press conference at NYPD headquarters in late-2014. “We’ll see how the numbers come out over time but there’s no doubt in my mind it will be a very substantial impact. And for a lot of young people it means they will not have this reality holding them back; a summons is not going to affect their future. An arrest, could. And we want to avoid that unnecessary burden.”

Of the nearly 18,000 marijuana possession arrests carried out in 2017 in New York City, more than 86 percent were Black and Hispanic people, according to a new release of data from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. These minority groups make up roughly half of the city’s population, but much more of its prison community due to entrenched biases and longheld discriminatory enforcement policies like “stop and frisk.” Fewer than 9 percent of marijuana possession arrests in New York City last year were conducted on White “offenders.”

“It’s confirmation that the NYPD’s marijuana policing strategy has been concentrated on black and brown New Yorkers, ” said Anthony Posada, a supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Society. “Policing is showing us the tale of two cities, and that there’s policing that occurs for some people and not for others.”

The NYPD has categorically denied they operate with a bias against communities of color when it comes to marijuana, saying their officers go where the complaints are lodged and that is all, but the evidence and is hard to deny — especially given the sample size.

The statistics are especially troubling when you consider the report also displays White people aged 18-25 use cannabis more than Blacks or Latinos in New York City.


Not only has Mayor de Blasio and his cops failed to eliminate the marijuana arrest problem in the Big Apple, they’ve made it worse. In fact, the NYPD arrested more people for marijuana between 2015-16 than under Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani from 1994-96, when marijuana was not decriminalized in the city.

As states in the Northeast race to the finish line of recreational cannabis legalization (Vermont and New Hampshire have joined Maine and Massachusetts in allowing adult-use cannabis possession) New York is faced with a difficult decision: move with the changing tide and correct decades of wrongdoing by legalizing marijuana and retroactively expunging the arrest records of any nonviolent weed offenders, or continue doing business as usual to justify using taxpayer money to enforce outdated policies the people have very clearly expressed they oppose.

What will you do besides Tweet about the problem, New York lawmakers?

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