Marijuana Arrests Plummet in NY; Still High for Blacks, Hispanics: Study

Marijuana possession arrests have dropped in New York City and in upstate New York since their peak in 2011, but African Americans and Hispanics still had higher rates of arrests compared to whites, according to a new report from John Jay College.

Marijuana possession arrests have dropped in New York City and in upstate New York since their peak in 2011, but African Americans and Hispanics still had higher rates of arrests compared to whites, according to a new report by the Data Collaborative for Justice at John Jay College.

In an analysis of data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, researchers found that overall marijuana arrests declined sharply from 51,589 in 2011 to 18,241 in 2017.

The decline in drug arrests was likely related to revisions of New York State marijuana laws, the report said.  Beginning in 1977, New York decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, reducing possession of 25 grams of marijuana or less a violation, punishable by a fine for those who violated the law one or two times, and a fine and/or jail for those who violated the law a third time, in three years.

More recently, in December 2018, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his support for legalization of recreational marijuana for adult use, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that legalizing and regulating marijuana for adult use would be one of the priorities for his administration during the first 100 days of the 2019 legislative session.

In the last five years, police and prosecutors in New York City, have made further changes to the enforcement of the existing law on misdemeanor marijuana possession.

“These changes are likely to result in a reduced number of arrests as well as convictions in New York City for the latter part of 2018 and for 2019,” they said.

Notably, New York City had lower drug arrest rates than cities in New York’s “upstate” region.

In 2017, possession accounted for 84.6 percent of misdemeanor marijuana arrests in New York, but 91.4 percent of arrests in the upstate region, and 95.9 percent for the rest of the state, the report noted.

However, while the overall number of drug arrests declined from 2011 to 2017, the differences between the arrest rates for marijuana possession for Blacks and Hispanics relative to Whites widened between 1990 to 2017, the report found.

Data showed that blacks were 8.1 times more likely to be arrested in 2017 than their white counterparts.

Significantly, the percentage of blacks arrested for drug charges has increased since 2010.

In 2010, when arrest rates were at their most recent peak,  Blacks were 7.3 times more likely to be arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Also, Hispanics were 3.4 times more likely to be arrested compared to whites in 2010 and five  times more likely in 2017.

The authors said their findings illustrated a need for policymakers to address  the high incarceration rates of people of color.

“These findings, and the data behind them, provide an empirical foundation for important policy conversations underway in New York State about decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, such as how to reduce racial differences in arrest rates,” they said.

New York needs to address the impacts on communities that have historically experienced high rates of enforcement,  and at the same time, “protect young people from the damaging effects that marijuana can have on the developing brain, improve police-community relations and public confidence in the justice system, and balance concerns about community conditions and safety,” they concluded.

The report co-authors include:  Erica Bond, J.D., Cecilia Low-Weiner, M.S., Meredith Patten, Ph.D., Quinn Hood B.A., Olive Lu, M.S., Shannon Tomascak, M.S. & Preeti Chauhan, Ph.D.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

This summary was prepared by TCR senior staff writer Megan Hadley.


Weed Arrests Surge in Philadelphia Suburbs

Despite the growing cultural acceptance of marijuana use, arrests have ticked up significantly in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania counties adjacent to Philadelphia. Experts cite several factors, including opiate enforcement and court rulings that relaxed police search protocols.

Despite the nation’s growing acceptance of marijuana, police in the Philadelphia suburbs and South Jersey are making more pot arrests, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Officers in the four suburban Pennsylvania counties next to Philadelphia arrested 3,100 people for marijuana possession last year, an 11 percent increase over the year before. In Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester counties in New Jersey, pot arrests jumped 40 percent from 2015 to 2016. The Inquirer’s review shows that African Americans make up an increasing share of those facing pot charges. Blacks are an estimated 40 percent of those arrested for marijuana in the region, even though they make up only 12 percent of the combined population of South Jersey and the city’s Pennsylvania suburbs.

Police, prosecutors, and defense lawyers offer a range of explanations for the surge in marijuana arrests, which can saddle people with criminal records, hefty fines and legal bills, a suspended driver’s license, and trouble with employers. In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, recent state Supreme Court rulings have made it easier for police to search for marijuana. The high courts in both states have decreed that police only need smell the pungent odor of weed to conduct an immediate search — without the need for a warrant from the judge.  “It opened the floodgates,” said Eric Morrell, a New Jersey defense lawyer. Some police commanders say they have stepped up drug enforcement to tackle the opioid epidemic, and marijuana arrests are up accordingly. Others say that the growing cultural acceptance of pot has, ironically, helped fuel the boom in arrests because people have become more flagrant in its use.


NYC Blacks, Hispanics Hit Hardest by Misdemeanor Arrests: Study

In its seventh report, John Jay College’s Misdemeanor Justice Project found that, even though arrests for pot possession and other drug-related offenses are down, individuals of color are almost five times more likely to be arrested for drug charges than whites in New York City.

In New York City, marijuana and other drug-related arrests significantly decreased in 2016, but young African-American men and Hispanics are still arrested at much higher rates than their white counterparts, according to a report by the Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Examining data from the New York City Police Department from 1993 to 2016, including all misdemeanor offenses for 16 to 65 year olds, researchers found that blacks are almost five times more likely to be arrested for minor drug charges such as possession of marijuana than whites.

Although the City has taken a proactive approach to reducing jail sentences, with plans to close Rikers Island, the second largest prison complex in the country, questions remain about the impact the new approaches will have on men and women of color.


Tables courtesy of John Jay Misdemeanor  Justice Project.

Young men of color experienced the most dramatic increases and decreases for misdemeanor crimes such as marijuana charges, theft of service charges, trespassing charges, resisting arrest charges, and weapons charges, the study found.


Males are also nine times more likely to be arrested than females for marijuana charges.

Currently, New York City has the lowest crime rates and jail admission rates in decades, researchers stated.

While marijuana and other drug arrests have decreased in recent years, the number of arrests for charges more likely to be ‘complaint driven’, such as person and victim related property charges, have increased among both black and white populations.

Since 1993, there has been a 53 percent increase in “complaint-driven” charges for whites and a 72 percent increase for blacks.

The study called the increase “striking” and suggested that, possibly, there is a greater willingness by community members to call the police.

Also noteworthy: Prostitution charges among men have significantly increased.

In 1993, women were 80 percent more likely to be arrested for prostitution than men, but in 2016, the numbers were about equal.

The study did not give an explanation for the dramatic increase of prostitution arrests among men.

Overall, New York is making strides to reduce criminal sentences for non-felony offenses, such as implementing the Criminal Justice Reform Act in July 2017, which creates the presumption that some behaviors such as public drinking, public urination, littering and noise and park violations will result in a civil rather than criminal summons.

Other avenues for reducing jail and prison time include speeding up case processing, facilitating easier bail payments, the creation of a new pretrial risk assessment instrument, and the diversion of people with mental illness, the study said.

The Misdemeanor Justice Project is headed by Preeti Chauhan, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Megan Hadley is a staff writer for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.