Drug Law

NYC Councilmen Protest "Racially Biased" Marijuana Arrests

| by NORML

By "Radical" Russ Belville

We’ve reported many times on the racial disparity of marijuana arrests in New York City, which leads the world in annual marijuana arrests for major cities.  It’s one of the cruelest twists of criminal code that ensnares 40,000 – 50,000 mostly-black-and-Latino young people: marijuana possession is decriminalized (only a ticket) in New York, but an arrestable misdemeanor in to possess marijuana in public view, which cops create by intimidating or forcing suspects into showing their marijuana.

Now a prominent group of New York city council members are demanding an end to the practice on the steps of City Hall.

(NY Times) Criticizing the Bloomberg administration’s aggressive pursuit of marijuana possession arrests as “racially biased” and costly, a group of City Council members gathered in front of City Hall on Wednesday to introduce aresolution aimed at curbing the practice.

The Council resolution, co-sponsored by Melissa Mark-Viverito and G. Oliver Koppell, expresses support for an effort among some state lawmakers to close that legal loophole by reclassifying the public display of small amounts of marijuana as a violation.

Since 2002, more than 350,000 people have been arrested in New York City for having small amounts of marijuana. The Bloomberg administration has defended the policy, saying that marijuana arrests are an important tool in fighting drug markets and violence, and that changing the law would encourage public smoking. A spokesman said the Bloomberg administration had no comment on the resolution.

Nearly 90 percent of those arrested in the city on charges of personal possession of marijuana are black or Latino, a fact that was repeatedly mentioned at Wednesday’s news conference.

The racial disparity in the War on Drugs has brought the NAACP around to calling for an end to this policy.  Let’s just hope the solution isn’t that we just racially-balance the arrests for marijuana among whites, blacks, and Latinos, but that we end arrests for marijuana, period.