New York City Finally Sees Reduction in Marijuana Arrests

New York, NY: The shift away from arresting minor marijuana offenders in New York City, announced as a “clarification” on September 19, 2011 by New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, appears to be having the desired effect. Prior to the announcement, city police were regularly arresting those with small amounts of marijuana in their possession, although state law defines the private possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a $100 civil fine. But smoking in public or possessing it publicly remains a misdemeanor with a possible 3 months in jail and a $500 fine.

Figures released by the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services show that in 2010, the New York City Police Department arrested 50,383 people for low-level marijuana offenses. Arrests for low-level marijuana possession offenses are the number one arrest in New York City, making up 15 percent of all arrests. On average, nearly 140 people are arrested every day for marijuana possession in NYC, making the Big Apple the “Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World.”

Arrests for low-level marijuana possession fell 13% in the city in the weeks after the police commissioner cautioned officers not to bust people for small amounts of the drug found in pockets or bags, according to department data released Wednesday. Department figures show 1,190 fewer arrests were made in the nine weeks since the order, compared with the same period a year earlier.

More than 85 percent of those arrested for marijuana in New York City are blacks and Latinos in the poorest neighborhoods where the highest rates of stop-and-frisk occur, despite usage rates among the three groups being essentially the same.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.