NYC Has the Most Marijuana Arrests in the World (But Don’t Worry, White People, It Won’t Be You)

This post, written by Ezkiel Edwards, originally appeared on DMI Blog

With the NYPD facing difficult challenges such as combating terrorism and stopping the flow of illegal handguns into the city, what are the police arresting people for at a rate ten times greater than before 1997? Marijuana.

But they aren't arresting everyone who possesses marijuana; only poor people of color. When confronted with statistics demonstrating the grossly disproportionate arrest rates of African Americans, often conservatives are quick to respond that African Americans commit more crimes.

But then how would they explain the epidemic of marijuana arrests in New York City over the past ten years, a plague of over-policing that has swept up poor people of color, sending Blacks and Hispanics to jail for misdemeanor marijuana offenses at rates far greater than those of whites, even though, according to the U.S. government, whites use more marijuana per capita than Blacks and Hispanics? If you don't think such arrests ever happen, you might be surprised to learn that in the last ten years, New York City has arrested more people for marijuana than any city, not just in New York State, not just in the Northeast, not just in America, but in the entire world.

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How would conservatives respond to Professor Harry Levine's testimony in May 2007 before the New York State Assembly Committees on Codes and on Corrections (regarding proposed legislation to expand the DNA databank by requiring anyone convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana offense to give a DNA sample)? For two years. Professor Levine has researched marijuana arrests and convictions in New York City. Here is some of what he found:

Between 1997 and 2006, 360,000 people were arrested and jailed for marijuana offenses in NYC , ten times more than had been arrested the decade previous. That means 100 people a day in NYC are handcuffed and thrown in jail, where they sit, for at least 24 hours, sometimes 36, sometimes 48, waiting to appear before a judge to answer for their "crime".

To figure out who is getting arrested most frequently for marijuana offenses, you might just figure out who possesses and uses marijuana most often, right? Among high school students and young adults, for instance, a higher percentage of white people use marijuana than Blacks and Hispanics.

Since the majority of those arrested in NYC are between the ages of 16 and 26, it follows that whites must be bearing the brunt of NYPD's marijuana arrest mania, right? Wrong.

In fact, 85% are Black and Latino (55% and 30%, respectively), 15% are white.

Put another way, for every 100,000 whites, 124 were arrested. For every 100,000 Hispanics, 430 were arrested. For every 100,000 Blacks, 975 were arrested. So blacks were arrested at eight times the rate of whites.

Even without the statistics, does that sound representative of the percentage of marijuana users in this city if categorized by race? Does anyone think that blacks possess marijuana at eight times the rates of whites? If so, then you haven't been into white homes across New York City, from the two-bedroom apartments on the Upper West Side to West Village lofts to parties in Chelsea to Williamsburg walk-ups to Park Slope brownstones to residences in Astoria and Jackson Heights.

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