The Drug Policy Alliance has put a number to the time spent arresting and processing people for minor marijuana possession in New York City. And it’s staggering. From 2002 to 2012 the New York Police Department spent one million hours on low-level pot cases.
That’s 1,000,000 police hours dedicated to busting people for a substance that has been decriminalized on the state level for 36 years. And it’s 1,000,000 police hours not spent investigating serious crimes. It’s also, incredibly, considered a conservative estimate.
It’s difficult to imagine but 1,000,000 hours over an 11-year period means that the NYPD spent an average of about 250 hours per day on pot-related arrests from 2002 to 2012.
The Drug Policy Alliance report, prepared by Dr. Harry Levine, who has tirelessly investigated the NYPD’s unchecked pot arrests for years, also calculates that those arrested for pot have spent 5,000,000 hours in police custody over that time.
New York State decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in 1977. Nonetheless, more people are arrested for pot possession in New York City than in any other city in the US.
NYC marijuana-related arrests skyrocketed during the Giuliani administration. But it was during Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s tenure that New York became the pot arrest capital of the country.
With Bloomberg in office the NYPD has made 440,000 marijuana possession arrests. And those arrests disproportionately affect people of color. In 2011 Dr. Levine and the Drug Policy Alliance revealed that an overwhelming majority (87%) of people arrested for pot in New York City are black or Latino.
The record-breaking busts are due in part to a loophole in the law allowing arrests for "pot in public view." If an officer orders a suspect to empty their pockets (or forcibly removes the contents) and marijuana is revealed, the suspect can be arrested for possessing pot in public view.
This loophole combined with the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program – which is currently on trial – has led to the city’s rampant pot arrests.
Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Levine, the Drug Policy Alliance, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and others, New York has slowly (and reluctantly) shown signs of curtailing these obscene marijuana-related arrests. Gov Cuomo has attempted to end the pot in public view loophole, Police Commissioner Kelly and all five NYC District Attorneys have called for reform, and stop-and-frisk now faces abolishment. But for many victims of the NYPD’s pot bust binge it’s 1,000,000 hours too late.
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