New York: Analyses Find That People of Color Are Far More Likely to Be Arrested for Marijuana-Related Violations

New York, NY: A pair of new analyses of marijuana-related arrests in various cities in New York state finds that people of color are disproportionately arrested for marijuana-related offenses. 

The first report, issued by The Legal Aid Society, analyzed marijuana-related arrests in the five boroughs in New York City for the year 2020. Of those arrested, over 93 percent were either Black or Hispanic.

“The data affirm that New Yorkers of color are still overwhelmingly shouldering the brunt of the NYPD’s racist marijuana enforcement while other communities get a free pass,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney with the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “To correct the racist origins of the prohibition of marijuana that still very much exists today, Albany must enact the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) immediately to ensure that our clients, those from criminalized communities, will obtain equity, racial justice, and priority access to the benefits that legalization will create.”

Another report, published by the Drug Policy Alliance, examined marijuana arrest rates over the past decade in four cities: Buffalo, New York City, New Rochelle, and Syracuse. In Syracuse, Blacks were four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis offenses than were whites. In Buffalo, Blacks were three times as likely to be arrested. In New York City, Blacks and Latinos were eight times more likely to be arrested than were whites. In New Rochelle, authors reported that Blacks comprise 20 percent of the city’s population but were 46 percent of those arrested for marijuana violations between 2018 and January 2021.

Authors concluded: “Despite regional differences, New York City, New Rochelle, Syracuse, and Buffalo demonstrate similar trends. In all four cities, people of color are consistently over-represented in marijuana arrests, and areas with the highest marijuana arrest rates also tend to have proportionally larger populations of color.”

Similar trends have been documented in other major cities nationwide, including Albany, New York, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. A 2020 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union concluded, “Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates.” Authors reported, “In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested. In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”

Full text of the DPA report, “Inequitable marijuana criminalization, COVID-19, and socioeconomic disparities: The case for community reinvestment in New York,” is available online. Additional information is available from the NORML fact-sheet, “Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests.”