A year ago, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor de Blasio announced that the NYPD would stop arresting tens of thousands of New Yorkers for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Possession of less than 25 grams in New York has been decriminalized since 1977, but those amounts had remained a crime if held in public view. Coinciding with the rise of stop-and-frisk under former police commissioner Ray Kelly, cops came to rely on the public view provision to make as many as 50,000 arrests in a year. A Queens College researcher estimated that people were cuffed as many as three quarters of the time for producing the pot after cops demanded they empty their pockets or bags.
The shift to effectively decriminalize small amounts of pot in public view was meant to discourage the loophole arrests, which continued even after Kelly wrote a memo telling cops to cut it out, and actually increased when Bratton first took power. The enforcement overwhelmingly targeted black and Latino people, though whites smoke weed at comparable if not higher rates. Under the policy change, Bratton made it so that stoners smoking or burning marijuana in public and those without ID could still be arrested. So far this year, the New York Post reports, marijuana arrests are down, but only 40 percent compared to the same period last year. State data show police made 18,120 arrests through October 20th, compared to 29,906 last year. Meanwhile, officers have written 13,081 marijuana tickets, which are $100 for the first offense and are treated like speeding tickets, so far this year, compared to 13,378 in all of last year.
As the Post outlines, officers in some predominately black and Latino neighborhoods still have a serious jones for marijuana arrests. Police at Jamaica and St. Albans, Queens's 113th Precinct, singled out in a Drug Policy Alliance report [pdf] last year for racially disproportionate arrests, continued to break out the cuffs for stoners this year, locking up 259 through September and ticketing just 79. Fordham, the Bronx's 52nd Precinct was alongside the 113th on the Alliance's list of the 20 precincts with the highest rates of marijuana arrests last year, and kept at it despite Bratton's call to tamp it down, arresting 720 through September and ticketing only 168.
As it did before the selective decriminalization directive, enforcement varies widely from precinct to precinct. In Throgs Neck, the Bronx, the only neighborhood among last year's 20 with the lowest arrest rates with a black and Latino majority population, police this year ticketed 415 pot users and arrested only 48. In New Dorp Staten Island, the 122nd Precinct ticketed 258 and arrested only 18.
The Post, of course, framed these developments as the NYPD being reined in after pesky prosecutors and activists "clamored for drug decriminalization."
"The police are being left in a nowhere land. No matter what they do they’re subject to criticism," John Jay College professor Eugene O’Donnell told the tabloid. "For cops it’s not really about marijuana; it’s about finding marijuana on the way to finding a gun or more serious narcotics."