Minorities Over-Represented In Pot Arrests, Study Says

New York, NY:  African-Americans and Hispanics in New York City are far more likely to be arrested and receive a conviction for minor marijuana offenses than are white citizens, according to statistical data to be published in the journal Criminology and Public Policy.

Investigators at New York City’s National Development Research Institute (NDRI), an independent think-tank specializing in substance abuse issues, analyzed local marijuana arrest data from 1980 to 2006. Authors reported that 85 percent of the defendants arrested in New York City for the crime of possessing marijuana in the fifth degree (e.g., smoking pot in public) were either African-American or Hispanic.

African-Americans and Hispanics together comprise approximately half of the city’s population.

Investigators also reported that African-Americans were 2.66 times as likely as whites to be detained before arraignment while Hispanics were nearly twice as likely.  In addition, both groups were twice as likely as whites to be convicted on pot charges.

Compared to Caucasians, African-Americans were four times as likely and Hispanics were three times as likely to receive additional jail time.

“In light of the disparities, we recommend that the NYPD consider scaling back on [the enforcement of] smoking marijuana in public view, … and that legislators … consider making smoking marijuana in public a violation and not a misdemeanor,” authors concluded.

Although minor marijuana possession offenses are punishable by a civil citation under state law, the possession or use of cannabis in a public place is classified as a criminal misdemeanor.  Citywide arrests for public smoking rose from less than 1,000 in 1990 to more than 51,000 in 2000. 

In 2006, New York City police arrested approximately 32,000 citizens for the use of cannabis in public –­ 87 percent of whom were either African-American or Hispanic.

A previous analysis of marijuana arrest data by the NORML Foundation reported nationwide racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement ­– finding that although fewer than 12 percent of all self-reported pot smokers were African-American, they comprised 23% of all marijuana possession arrests.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.  Full text of study, “The race/ethnicity disparity in misdemeanor marijuana arrests in New York City” will appear in the spring 2007 issue of the journal Criminology and Public Policy.  The study’s lead author, Andrew Golub of the National Development Research Institute, will discuss his findings next week on the NORML Daily AudioStash.