Arrests for minor marijuana crime plummet in New York

In recent years, the number of individuals taken into custody for Marijuana have increased but according to the new statistics, the rate of arrests decreased in the first three months of a new mayoral administration that has pledged to decrease them.

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services data obtained by the Associated Press showed that arrests for the lowest-level marijuana crime decreased 34% in the first quarter and 9% in the first quarter of 2014, to roughly 7,000. Both comparisons are for the same time period in the year 2013.

According to the police commissioner William Bratton, the department is “attempting to use a lot more discretion” and decreasing the arrests, which Mayor Bill de Blasio decried during his campaign in 2013 but activists forcing drug law changes said that this year’s numbers show that problematic police practices continue.

Gabriel Sayegh, the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York director said, “The fact that there’s a small drop isn’t that significant, in that we know that these arrests are still going on in ways that they shouldn’t be”.

The mayor’s office and police department didn’t immediately reply to inquiries related to the new figures of arrests.

Bratton said he is discussing the problem with Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson and others in the coming weeks. They are working toward “uniform, better and fairer” methods to handle the arrests, said a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr.

New York State has considered possession of less than 25 grams, a non-criminal violation since 1977 related to traffic ticket unless the drug is open to public view. In those cases, it is a misdemeanor, spurring an arrest record and potentially three months in jail, though many cases get dismissed if defendants avoid arrest again.

From 1978 through 1995, the arrests averaged about 2,100 a year but more than 36,700 per year from 1996 through 2011. According to the Federal data, marijuana use nationwide has increased but far less dramatically, during the last 10 years.

In 2011, the rate of arrests was high, but it decreased from about 50,700 then to 28,600 in 2013.

It was believed by the critics that New York City police illegally search individuals or get them to empty their pockets to generate a “public view” arrest. In September 2011, police officers were reminded that they could not force individuals to bring the drug out, though police officials said there was no indication of doubtful marijuana arrests.

But Anthony Shelborne said that there still is.

He was taken into custody in Harlem in February after police officers said they saw him holding marijuana in public view and then took a bag of pot from his “waist area”, as shown by a court complaint. Shelborne said that the weed was not in the open until police pulled it from his underwear and he is fighting against the charge. Shelborne, who was taken into custody with a friend said, “I don’t know what made them stop us in the first place”.

The marijuana arrests have increased and decreased alongside city police use of stop and inspect. And like those stopped and inspected, the vast majority of marijuana arrestees are black and Hispanic, which were 86% in the first quarter of 2014, as shown by the analysis of state data by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine.

DeBlasio referenced the racial breakdown in pledging to decrease the arrests as a candidate. He backed a 2012 proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to decriminalize possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana even if publicly visible but it is stalled in the state Legislature.