420 Magazine Background

New York's Epidemic of Pot Busts


New Member
'I call it an epidemic of marijuana arrests. New York City has been on a binge of marijuana arrests for the last 10 years."

"I would call it a dragnet."

These are the conclusions of Harry Levine, a professor of sociology at Queens College, and Deborah Small, director of Break the Chains, a nonprofit drug policy reform group and a longtime advocate of changing the city's drug policies.

The two, who are studying the city's marijuana arrest policy, want to see the police give summonses to people who are caught smoking marijuana in public or with small amounts of marijuana on them, instead of the current practice of arresting them and jailing them overnight.

According to arrest data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the number of arrests for marijuana possession skyrocketed from about 10,000 in 1996 to more than 50,000 in 2000. The arrests have tapered off somewhat since then, but remain high: 33,000 arrests for marijuana possession last year.

Meanwhile, federal government figures show that between 1997 and 2006 marijuana use among high school students and 19- to 28-year-olds rose only slightly.

Studies of marijuana arrests in New York City by Levine, researchers at the University of Chicago Law School, and the National Development and Research Institutes found that the overwhelming number of those arrested for marijuana possession were black and Latino males, even though national studies show that black and Latino high school students use marijuana at a lower rate than white students. However, the state criminal justice services officials say they have concerns about the reliability of the city's statistics on the race of those arrested because of how racial data are reported.

Marijuana arrests in the city surged in the late 1990s as part of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's quality-of-life policing strategy, and have continued under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But although early law enforcement efforts concentrated on heavily trafficked public areas like Central Park and midtown Manhattan, the efforts shifted to lower-income black and Latino communities, the studies say.

Camilla Price, chief of staff for State Sen. Ruben Diaz, whose district includes the Soundview section of the Bronx, says police in her district routinely swoop down on students as they leave school.

"Kids are going between Stevenson High School and several housing projects. They can be standing on the corner, and I've seen the cops with the kids against the wall, going through their pockets. Some kids have money or weed. They just harass the kids like there's no tomorrow."

Legal Aid attorneys I talked to confirmed that they're handling far more marijuana possession cases than in years past. One experienced Legal Aid attorney told me the police used to issue desk appearance tickets, but now they're putting them through the arrest wringer. "It's disturbing," says Seymour James, the attorney in charge of crime practice for the Legal Aid Society, "incarcerating them overnight when they could be given a summons. There is no reason for this ... for merely having a marijuana cigarette."

The police have considerable discretion in how they treat marijuana offenses. They can confiscate the pot, give the person a warning and tell them to go home. They can write a summons, which is similar to a traffic ticket and requires the offender to appear before a judge on a certain date. A summons can result in a fine or a dismissal. Or they can choose to arrest and handcuff the offenders, put them in a police car, take them to the station house, fingerprint and photograph them, and hold them in jail until they can be arraigned, which can sometimes take days. Many possession charges are dismissed if the person doesn't get into any more trouble in the next year. But it's ridiculously punitive to put people through a humiliating process for a minor offense.

"We're socializing black and Latino youths to the criminal justice system," Levine says. "We're teaching them how to be in the system." It's like telling them this is a rehearsal for a future of getting arrested and spending time in jail, Small says.

Police Department spokesman Paul Browne says the department is simply carrying out the law, and argues that there's been no major increase in such arrests during the last three years. But the number of arrests is still large, and has grown dramatically over time when there's been no similar increase in marijuana use.

Arresting people, especially teenagers, for smoking a joint, passing one to a friend, or having a small bag of marijuana needs to stop. Far more serious crimes are going on. And no parent of a teenager wants to see her kid thrown in jail and treated like a criminal for a minor transgression that could be handled with a summons.

Newshawk: Drboomhauer https://www.420magazine.com
Source: Newsday.com
Author: Sheryl McCarthy
Contact: mccart731@aol.com.
Copyright: Copyright Newsday Inc.
Website: Arrests for pot are excessive - Newsday.com
Last edited by a moderator:


New Member
"We're socializing black and Latino youths to the criminal justice system," Levine says. "We're teaching them how to be in the system." It's like telling them this is a rehearsal for a future of getting arrested and spending time in jail, Small says.

Let me say this, the last generation of kids of color has been lost....lost to this system of generational institutionalization, vis-à-vis "the drug war". This system is being adopted by other industrialized countries like Canada and Western European countries.

One answer to this problem is education and the existing (white and comfortable) bureaucracies are denying it to generations of people of color and other minorities. This didn't happen overnight. Pot should not send these kids to jail. Pot is a medical/health issue not a legal issue.

Where's my soapbox...? Or it just pisses me off (and I'm white and comfortable) sometimes when experts draw these (redundant) conclusions. :3::peace:
Top Bottom