NEW YORK -- The NYPD spent 1 million hours making 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession charges between 2002 and 2012, according to a new report released Tuesday -- just as legislative leaders in Albany are deciding whether to pass a bill reforming drug laws.
The Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, pro-drug law reform groups that commissioned the report, said its findings show a "huge waste" of police resources.
"We cannot afford to continue arresting tens of thousands of youth every year for low-level marijuana possession,” Alfredo Carrasquillo, a civil rights organizer with the activist group VOCAL-NY, said in a release. “We can't afford it in terms of the negative effect it has on the future prospects of our youth and we can't afford in terms of police hours."
The drug reform proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in public view. Possessing 25 grams or less of marijuana kept out of sight is currently a violation, subject to a $100 penalty in New York state.
Thousands of New York City residents, a disproportionate number of them black or Latino, have been arrested for emptying their pockets on the order of police during stop-and-frisk encounters.
Cuomo has made reforming the marijuana law a top legislative priority this year. In June, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly made the surprise announcement that they, too, supported Cuomo's plan.
In 2012, according to the report, the NYPD made 39,218 low-level possession arrests. The report assumed police spent an average of 2.5 man-hours on such arrests, amounting to 98,045 hours in 2012.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Drug Policy Alliance's numbers.
Activists have been sharply critical of Bloomberg's record on marijuana, pointing out that during his tenure, the NYPD has arrested more New Yorkers for marijuana possession than the last three mayors combined. But in February, Bloomberg announced that New Yorkers would no longer have to be held in jail overnight for possession.