You'll recall that during his first mayoral campaign, a New York magazine reporter asked Mike Bloomberg if he'd ever smoked grass, to which the future plutocrat replied, "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it." And since taking office, he's also enjoyed locking up New Yorkers (most of them minorities) for low-level marijuana possession. During his administration, the NYPD has made more than 350,000 misdemeanor pot arrests—more than Dinkins, Koch, and Giuliani combined. Last year this folly cost NYC an estimated $75 million dollars, according to a report by the Drug Policy Alliance (below).
The report is based on studies that estimate the legal costs of processing a misdemeanor arrest, which the DPA pegs at between $1,500 and $2,000 in NYC. (You'd think for that much they could get sheets with better thread count in the Tombs, or maybe even sheets.) Using those figures, the report estimates that the 50,300 misdemeanor pot busts last year cost between $75,450,000 on the low end and $100,600,000 on the high end. Since 1996, taxpayers have funded a war on pot possession that's cost perhaps as over a billion dollars. WINNING!
The "human costs" of the crusade are also examined in the report, which urges New Yorkers to consider the long-lasting effects of black and Latino teenagers establishing permanent criminal records at a young age. Although national studies have shown that white people smoke marijuana in greater numbers than any other group, in NYC black and Latinos are overwhelmingly the ones getting arrested for low-level possession.
It's no coincidence that this racial disparity is also seen in the city's stop and frisk data, which disproportionately impacts the same groups. Possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana and should not lead to arrest unless it is burning or "in public view." So when police conduct their beloved stop and frisks, they tell the suspect to empty his or her pockets. And voila, the marijuana is in public view!
At a budget hearing yesterday, Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito pressed NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly about the costs of low-level marijuana arrests. Kelly insisted that that his police tactics have kept crime down, and, the Daily News reports, he added, "f you think the law is not written correctly, then you should petition the state Legislature to change it. The law clearly says if you have marijuana in public view, you should be arrested. It's a misdemeanor."