New York City just swore in Mayor Bill de Blasio, its first Democratic mayor in 20 years. Could that mean marijuana policy could loosen up in the Big Apple? Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg was notorious for his staunch anti-marijuana crackdown. What was the problem?
Well, according to NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the reason for arresting all those people for low-level marijuana offenses is to reduce violent crime in the city.
Wait, what? The idea that marijuana turns people violent is a relic of 1930s Reefer Madness, right? Well, yeah. But a 2012 study provided yet more evidence that the marijuana-violence connection is, as James King of the Village Voice put it, “a load of crap.”
Human Rights Watch released the findings of its study on whether defendants charged with marijuana possession go on to commit violent crimes — which, of course, they do not. News flash!The study, “A Red Herring: Marijuana Arrestees Do Not Become Violent Felons,” found there is no evidence to support the idea that locking up low-level marijuana offenders does absolutely anything at all to, as claimed by previous Mayor Bloomberg and Police Chief Kelly, “reduce violent crime.”
Data from the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services was used by HRW to track criminal records of almost 30,000 people who had no prior convictions when they were arrested for “marijuana possession in public view” in 2003 and 2004. (Marijuana has been decriminalized in New York since the 1970s, but NYPD cops routinely trick people into pulling out their bags of pot so they can then charge them with the enhanced “public view” possession.)
The study tracked criminal activity for those in the survey group until mid-2011. Of the roughly 30,000 people in the group who had been arrested for low-level marijuana offenses, more than 90 percent had no felony convictions as of 2011. Only 3.1 percent were convicted of one violent felony offense. An additional 0.4 percent had two or more violent felony convictions.“The New York City police sweep large numbers of people into the city’s criminal justice system — particularly young people of color — who do not go on to become dangerous felons,” the study concludes. “These findings are consistent with and add to research by Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College, City University of New York, which shows that the preponderance of marijuana arrestees do not have prior criminal convictions.”
As noted by the Village Voice, a single misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction — and even an arrest that’s not followed by a conviction — can screw up opportunities for employment, housing, and loans.
“The human cost to each one of these people and their families is serious and it is real,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.
Low-level marijuana arrests unfairly target minorities, according to civil rights groups. Of the roughly 50,000 people arrested each year in New York for low-level marijuana possession, 87 percent are black or Hispanic.
According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, 94 percent of all arrests for small amounts of marijuana (less than 25 grams) in New York state happen in New York City.
And according to Issa Kohler-Hausmann, coauthor of the report, New York City officials owe the public an explanation of how, exactly, all these marijuana arrests “contribute to public safety.”
“If these arrests have crime control benefits that outweigh the costs, public officials have yet to identify them,” Kohler-Hausmann said.
Low-level marijuana arrests cost New York City $75 million a year, plus clog up the court system, according to the Drug Policy Project.