If you are white and live in New York City, it’s unlikely you’ll get busted for weed. That’s no longer just a truism — the data officially proves it. The unfortunate reality of racial profiling has caused extreme disparities in policing marijuana: Black and Latino New Yorkers comprise more than 85 percent of cannabis possession arrests, even though they smoke weed less frequently than young whites do.
On Tuesday, the Marijuana Arrest Research Project released a new report commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, showing how black and Latino low-level weed arrests under Mayor Bill de Blasio have remained disproportionately high. The report, titled Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York, is based on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. It shows there’s been little improvement since de Blasio promised to end racially biased policing during his campaign for mayor. More than 52,000 of the city’s 60,000 low-level weed busts between 2014 and 2016 target young blacks and Latinos.
The report found that the NYPD has been making on average 20,000 petty weed arrests annually, and that the city’s public housing residents comprise the largest demographic of New Yorkers who get arrested. In 2016, 21 percent of marijuana possession arrests were made by the NYPD housing police, and 92 percent of those arrested were black and Latino.
About half the city’s population resides in the 37 neighborhoods (out of 76 total) that are majority black and Latino. Yet, more than 66 percent of those who are arrested for petty weed crimes live in those areas, and 92 percent of those people are black and Latino. Even when the cops target primarily white areas, like midtown and lower Manhattan, they still arrest blacks and Latinos at higher rates. For example, 77 percent of all low-level weed arrests in Chelsea were black or Latino New Yorkers.
In Manhattan, only 13 percent of the residents are black, yet blacks account for 45 percent of the weed arrests. In Queens, blacks comprise 18 percent of the residents, but 49 percent of the weed arrests, and in Staten Island, they’re 10 percent of the population but also a whopping 49 percent of the weed arrests. For context, that means blacks are arrested at seven, 10, and 15 times the rate of whites in Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island, respectively.
According to the report, the only way to eliminate discriminatory weed arrests is to stop them altogether. “We strongly recommend that police and district attorneys in the five boroughs of New York City immediately cease arresting, charging, and prosecuting anyone for violation of New York State Criminal Law section 221.1, part 1,” the report says.
“Prohibition has played a significant role in devastating low-income communities of color through racially biased enforcement and has often come with steep collateral consequences,” says Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of the advocacy organization VOCAL-NY. Even interacting with the police can cause irreparable harms to a young person, initiating a bad relationship to law enforcement.
“As New York finally sheds its embarrassing distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world, we must repair the harms of prohibition and end the biased policing practices that have ruined lives of so many young black and Latino New Yorkers,” says Kassandra Frederique, New York State director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “There is no excuse for New York city marijuana arrests to continue at this level in 2017. Mayor de Blasio pledged to end biased policing practices — if the end looks like more than 61,000 arrests on his watch and the same level of severe racial disparities, then the Mayor has failed to carry out his campaign promises to black New Yorkers.”