New York City: Prosecuting Near-Record Pot Arrests Costs City $75 Million Annually

New York, NY: Criminal justice expenses pertaining to the arrest and prosecution of minor marijuana offenders in New York City cost taxpayers some $75 million a year, according to a report published last week by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a national drug policy think tank.

The report, authored by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine and Loren Siegel, an attorney formerly with the American Civil Liberties Union, estimates that the criminal justice costs in New York city associated with a single arrest for marijuana possession, including all police and court expenses, is between $1,000 and $2,000.

In 2010, New York city police made 50,383 lowest level marijuana possession arrests [NY State Penal Law 221.10] involving cases where marijuana was either used or possessed in public. The total is the second highest in the city’s history and is an increase of over 5,000 percent from 1990, when police reported fewer than 1,000 low-level pot arrests.

The DPA report states that during Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor, from 2002 through 2010, the NYPD made nearly 350,000 arrests for marijuana possession – costing taxpayers $350 million to $700 million.

Although simple marijuana possession is a violation and not a crime in New York State, if the marijuana is “open to public view” it can be charged as a misdemeanor.

“More people have been arrested for marijuana possession under Mayor Bloomberg than under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Guiliani combined,” said the report’s co-author, Harry Levine. “These arrests are wildly expensive, do not improve public safety, and create permanent criminal records which seriously damage the life chances of the young people targeted and jailed.”

Added Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance: “It is beyond hypocritical for the Mayor, who once said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, to make arresting young people of color for marijuana possession his top law enforcement priority,” said. “While cutting services for seniors, youth, housing, transportation, teachers, education, and more, the Mayor spent 75 million dollars last year to arrest over 50,000 people for marijuana possession – which isn’t even a crime under New York State law. It’s just outrageous.”

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