NYC Marijuana Arrests Collapse To Lowest Level Since 1996

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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Marijuana arrests in New York City have plummeted to their lowest level since 1996, according to data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Marijuana arrests in 2015 fell to 16,590 — the lowest level in almost 20 years. The figures mark a 42 percent drop from 2014 and a 67 percent decline from the 51,000 arrests recorded in 2011.

“New York is finally starting to shed its embarrassing distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world,” New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) Kassandra Frederique said.

“Over the last twenty years, more than 700,000 lives were irrevocably harmed by our draconian marijuana arrest policies. We must repair the harms of marijuana prohibition and end the biased policing practices that have ruined the lives of so many young Black and Latino New Yorkers.”

While the DPA welcomed the sharp fall in marijuana arrests it pointed out there were massive racial disparities in who was being arrested, with 88 percent of those arrested being black and Latino. The DPA argues these arrest rates are disparate because government data shows “young white men use at higher rates.”

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has invested a vast amount of time and resources attempting to clamp down on marijuana over the past 20 years. In 2010, New York State blew through $675 million enforcing marijuana laws. Over the last 20 years, the NYPD made 700,000 marijuana arrests and used up 100 million police hours in the war on marijuana, according to the DPA.

State legislators have sought to take a different approach to marijuana in recent years, with Brooklyn state Sen. Daniel Squadron and East Harlem Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez introducing the Fairness and Equity Act in 2014.

According to DPA, the Fairness and Equity Act is “legislation that would begin to address the collateral consequences associated with arrests, like sealing and vacating past marijuana convictions.” The act ensures that those arrested for possession of small amounts of cannabis do not face criminal charges.

“The reduction in arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana is an important step toward ending the racial disparities in marijuana enforcement,” said Squadron. “It proves that fairer policies make a difference, which is why it’s critical we pass my Fairness and Equity Act, to turn this policy into law across the state.”

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