More sensible drug policy has been making strides in the US and around the world lately, including some positive signs in the US state of New York. However, the situation in New York is still far from ideal.
In 1992, there were 812 arrests for possession of a small amount of marijuana in New York City. In 2012, that figure was 39,230. Marijuana arrests are actually the most common1 type of arrest in New York City. This is in a state where small-scale marijuana possession has legally been decriminalized since 1977. Over eighty-five percent of such arrests are of blacks and Latinos, despite data showing that whites are at least as likely to use marijuana.
In 2012, the state of New York spent $678 million on marijuana possession enforcement. New York City spends an estimated $50-100 million per year on marijuana possession enforcement alone.
The official excuse for this behavior is that the marijuana is “in public view,” making the offense a misdemeanor, rather than the petty violation it would otherwise be. However, the marijuana is most often only “in public view” in the sense that a police officer has either searched someone or ordered them to empty their pockets, and in either case found marijuana. Efforts to close this apparent loophole, as discussed in a previous article, have so far been unsuccessful.
This video from Julie Dressner and Jesse Hicks discusses the consequences of simply being arrested, not convicted, for this pseudo-crime. Alberto Willmore, an art teacher at the public Ella Baker School, was charged based on allegedly flicking a marijuana cigarette on the ground, a charge he denies. Police did send a marijuana sample, allegedly from Willmore’s cigarette, to a lab for analysis, which confirmed it was marijuana. The amount in question was about 0.2 grams. By way of comparison, private possession of any amount below 25 grams is decriminalized in New York.
Willmore was suspended from his job the day after his arrest. Although he had been arrested once previously for the same charge, that case was dismissed, so he has no criminal record. After 21 months, all charges in the latest case were also dismissed, but he was only allowed to return to work as a substitute teacher. The Department of Education continued to claim that Willmore was guilty of the charges of which he had been cleared.
1. See pages 17, E-1 and G-1.