New York City: Low-Level Pot Arrests Soar Despite Police Commissioner’s Objections

New York City: Low-Level Pot Arrests Soar Despite Police Commissioner's Objections2011 Marks Seventh Straight Year Police Have Reported An Increase In Marijuana Arrests

New York, NY: New York City police are continuing to make near-record numbers of minor marijuana arrests despite a directive from the city’s police commissioner advising them to do otherwise.

City police officers in 2011 made 50,680 arrests for violations of NY State Penal Law 221.10, which involves cases where marijuana was either used or possessed in public. The total is the second-highest annual number of pot arrests ever recorded by the NYPD and marks the seventh straight year that police have reported an increase in arrests.

Last September, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued an internal order directing cops to cease making such arrests after an investigation by public radio station WNYC questioned their legality. It concluded that police routinely conduct warrantless ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches of civilians, find marijuana hidden on their persons, and then falsely charge them with possessing pot ‘open to public view.’

Under state law, suspects found with small amounts of cannabis on their person are supposed to be ticketed but not arrested.

Bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce the penalties associated with the possession of cannabis in public to conform to those associated with private pot possession is pending in both the state senate and the state assembly.

Over the past two years, it is estimated that the city has spent over $150 million dollars on the arrest and prosecution of low-level pot offenders, some 85 percent of whom are either African American or Latino.

According to an analysis by the Drug Policy Alliance, in the last five years the NYPD under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made more marijuana arrests (2007 to 2011 = 227,093) than it did in the 24 years from 1978 through 2001 under Mayor Giuliani, Mayor Dinkins, and Mayor Koch combined (1978 to 2001 = 226,861).

An online analysis of marijuana arrest in New York and other major cities nationwide is now available online by the Marijuana Arrests Research Project at:

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500 or visit: