Over the past 15 years, New York City has become the marijuana arrest capital of the world due to a policing policy that functions to institutionalize racism. More than 84 percent of those arrested were people of color – even though young whites use marijuana at higher rates. Research by CUNY Professor Harry Levine finds a systematic, racial bias (pdf) to the NYPD’s approach to policing marijuana.
While possession of a small amount of marijuana (less than 25 grams) has been decriminalized in New York State since 1977, more than 50,000 people were arrested in New York City for “possessing or burning marijuana in public view” in 2011 (largely the result of the City’s controversial stop-and-frisk practices that recorded almost 700,000 stop-and-frisks last year alone).
A large majority of these arrests are the result of illegal searches, false charges, and entrapment. Several organizations in New York City such as the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives (IJJRA) and VOCAL New York, are working to end these racially biased and illegal marijuana arrests. The main way these organizations are doing this now is through a piece of legislation currently in the NY State legislature.
Democrat Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies and Republican State Senator Mark Grisanti have legislation that would clarify and to go back to the original intent of the 1977 law and make under 7/8 of an ounce an unarrestable offense. Since Jeffries will likely be elected to Congress in November, and the legislative session is almost over, this is the last chance to pass this bill. In this short (2:12) video, Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies explains what’s behind this legislation:
Conservative media pundits like Bill O’Reilly argue that further decriminalizing marijuana will lead to an increase in street crime (as he did on air this morning on Fox & Friends or as ), but there’s no evidence for such a claim. In fact, a recent New York Times piece clarifies this by noting that crime has also dropped in jurisdictions that don’t use NYC’s aggressive, racist stop-and-frisk policing strategy.
If you’d like to take action to stop this form of institutional racism, you can sign this online petition.