The city of New York used to have a rather progressive stance when it came to marijuana possession, having decriminalized possession of 25 grams or less back in 1977 with the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977. This was less than 10 years after the Controlled Substances Act was put into effect, creating the era of prohibition we’ve all been forced to live in. As far back as 1995, marijuana arrests in New York City were down to 5,700 for the entire year – however, that number has only creeped upward since then at a relatively steady and, for some, alarming rate.
Fast forward fifteen years, it’s 2010 and we’re only two short years away from having two states legalize the recreational use of cannabis – the marijuana arrests in New York City have skyrocketed since ‘95, reaching a total of 50,383 arrests for the year 2010. After this, the city ended up embarrassed when they were called out for the fact that not only were the arrest numbers higher than they had been in decades, but these arrests appear to be racially motivated, as 90% of those arrested were minorities – even though it’s been proven that white Americans use and sell marijuana at the same rate as other races and they make up half of the population in New York City.
In 2014, the introduction of Mayor de Blasio, who alongside Commissioner Bill Bratton, announced that the city would be implementing a decriminalization measure that would make 25 grams or less a violation, not a misdemeanor (never once mentioning that this has been a policy that should have been followed all along). They made a big display of the announcement – holding up a bag that supposedly had 25 grams of oregano to give an idea of the amount they were talking about and ensuring that they were trying to close the gap between communities and police.
During the first year of decriminalization, there was a significant decrease – the 2014 total arrests for marijuana possession were only 26,400 for the full year; a respectful decline after the 50,000 plus back in 2010, only four years prior. Now comparing the first six months of the year in 2014 to the following two years, we see a decrease and another jump – which is worrisome as it indicates that there will be another rise in arrests and that even though the Mayor and Commissioner have claimed to be working toward reform, they may be reversing this improvement.
In the first 6 months of 2014 there were 14,846 arrests for possession; in 2015 that number dropped by about half to only 7,236 – and there has been an increase by 30% this year to reach 9,331 arrests for the first half of 2016. Commissioner Bratton has announced his retirement – just as he was being called out for this increase as well as the continued high percentage of minorities being targeted. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the next commissioner will be much help when it comes to keeping these laws upheld properly.
Truthfully, officers should (and I believe in most circumstances, do) have the right to decide whether or not an individual receives a citation or is arrested – it’s unfortunate to think that this many NYPD officers are racist enough to arrest only minorities or choose to regularly arrest instead of issuing the citation; but the entire blame can not be put on the Commissioner and Mayor – it’s doubtful that they blackmailed officers with their livelihoods or something along those lines if they did not arrest instead, so the blame needs to be placed overall on the NYPD as a whole – and hopefully, they can see the nonsense that is happening and will decide to create a better future for New Yorkers.