A new report released today by the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project documents the astonishing number of hours the New York City Police Department has spent arresting and processing hundreds of thousands of people for low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests over the last 11 years. The report finds that NYPD used approximately 1,000,000 hours of police officer time making marijuana possession arrests during Mayor Bloomberg's tenure. These are hours that police officers might have otherwise have spent investigating and solving serious crimes.
Prepared by Dr. Harry Levine of Queens College, the report also estimates that the people arrested by NYPD for marijuana possession have spent 5,000,000 hours in police custody over the last decade.
The release of One Million Police Hours comes at a time when both the police and marijuana laws are being heavily scrutinized. In New York City, advocates are attending the second day of the Floyd case, where NYPD's notorious "stop-and-frisk" practices are on trial. In Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo and leaders from the Senate and Assembly are in negotiations about including Cuomo's proposal to fix the state's marijuana decriminalization as part of the state budget.
Although the state decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in 1977, it authorized the police to charge a person with a crime if the marijuana was "in public view." Police in New York City have used this loophole to make an arrest when the marijuana is exposed to public view as a result of an officer ordering a person reveal the contents of their pockets or bag -- often during a stop-and-frisk encounter.
Numerous other reports have exposed the array of problems associated with marijuana arrests in New York. NYPD has made 440,000 marijuana possession arrests under Bloomberg, more than mayors Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani combined. Nearly 70 percent of those arrested are younger than 30 years old; these young people receive a permanent criminal arrest record which can be easily found on the internet by employers, banks, schools, landlords, and others. And even though young whites use marijuana at higher rates, over 85 percent of the people arrested and jailed for marijuana possession are black and Latino. And for all this, New York taxpayers spend more than $75 million per year -- that's over $650 million during Mayor Bloomberg's tenure.
Reacting to pressure, Mayor Bloomberg recently announced administrative changes to how NYPD will process marijuana arrests. But this administrative movedoes not change the law itself and will not stop the arrests, so advocates continue to call upon Albany to fix the law.
Considering the range of support for fixing the marijuana possession law, one could be forgiven for thinking reform should be easy. Nearly 125 community organizations from across New York have called for change. So too has NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, all five NYC District Attorneys (Democrat and Republican) and District Attorneys and police chiefs from around the state. And then there are the polls showing that a majority of New Yorkers -- including Republicans -- who support decriminalization.
But this is Albany -- where both common sense and justice are in short supply, and reform is never guaranteed.
Community groups and activists continue to push for reforming the state's marijuana laws, and view the release of One Million Police Hours as yet another reason Albany should act.
"This is not just a crisis, but a frontline civil rights issue facing urban communities of color in the 21st century," said Chino Hardin, Field Coordinator with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions. "We are calling on Governor Cuomo to do the right thing, and exercise the moral and political will to address this injustice."