New York City Marijuana Arrests for Possession

New York State Department of Criminal Justice Service, Albany, NY.

Highlights and Background Information

NORML is a non-profit, public-interest lobby that for more than 30 years has provided a voice for those Americans who oppose marijuana prohibition.  We represent the interests of the tens of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly and believe the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana should no longer be a crime. The NORML Foundation, NORML's sister organization, is a nonprofit, educational foundation that seeks to educate the public about the costs of marijuana prohibition and the benefits of alternative policies; and to provide legal support and assistance to victims of the current marijuana laws.

According to the latest government surveys, more than 76 million Americans have smoked marijuana at some point in their lives, nearly 34% of the adult population.  Nearly 19 million people have smoked marijuana during the last year, and approximately 11 million in the last month .

Marijuana smokers are no different from their non-smoking peers, except for their use of marijuana. The vast majority of marijuana smokers, like most Americans, are good citizens who work hard, raise families, pay taxes and contribute in a positive manner to their communities. They are certainly not part of the crime problem, and it is terribly unfair to continue to treat them as criminals.

Many successful business and professional leaders -- including many local, state and federal elected officials such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Governor George Pataki, former President Bill Clinton and former Vice-President Al Gore, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and others -- admit to having smoked marijuana.

Marijuana prohibition needlessly destroys the lives and careers of literally hundreds of thousands of good citizens each year in this country.  More than 734,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges last year, and more than 5 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses in the past decade; nearly 90% of those arrests were for simple possession for personal use, not trafficking or sale.

In New York City, arrests for marijuana possession and use have risen from less than 2,000 in 1992 to more than 52,000 in 2000.  Minor marijuana offenses now comprise 15% of all arrests in the city of New York.

The negative consequences primarily associated with marijuana -- such as arrest or jail -- are the result of the criminal prohibition of cannabis, not the use of marijuana itself.

Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in laws against the possession of marijuana for personal use.

Marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.  It fails to inflict the types of serious health consequences these two legal drugs cause.  Around 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning and more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributable to tobacco smoking.  By comparison, marijuana is nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose.

Marijuana, like other drugs, is not for kids. There are many activities in our society that we permit adults to do, but forbid children, such as motorcycle riding, skydiving, signing contracts, getting married, having sex, drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco. However, we do not condone arresting adults who responsibly engage in these activities in order to dissuade our children from doing so. Nor can we justify arresting adult marijuana smokers on the grounds of sending a message to kids. Our expectation and hope for our young people is that they grow up to be responsible adults, and out of obligation to them is to demonstrate what that means.

NORML is not encouraging more drug use; simply that we stop arresting responsible marijuana smokers.  In recent years, we have significantly reduced the prevalence of drunk driving and tobacco smoking.  We have achieved this result not by prohibiting the use of alcohol or tobacco or by targeting and arresting adults who use alcohol and tobacco responsibly, but through honest educational campaigns.  We champion applying these same principles to the responsible use of marijuana.