HIGH TIME FOR JUS­TICE

Blaz, NYPD & DAs vow to curb pot busts, re­form bi­ased sys­tem

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - MELISSA MOORE & CHRISTO­PHER ALEXAN­DER Moore is New York deputy state di­rec­tor and Alexan­der is pol­icy co­or­di­na­tor at the Drug Pol­icy Al­liance.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of New York­ers have suf­fered life-al­ter­ing harms due to mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion and the pre­text it pro­vides for law en­force­ment to over­po­lice com­mu­ni­ties of color.

Sixty New York­ers are ar­rested every day for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion — since 1996, there have been more than 800,000 such ar­rests.

Al­though mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion was de­crim­i­nal­ized in New York in 1977, a loop­hole main­tains pos­ses­sion in “pub­lic view” as a crime. This loop­hole — cou­pled with per­va­sive and racially bi­ased over­polic­ing of cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties — has re­sulted in con­tin­ued mass ar­rests.

Re­search shows that many of the peo­ple ar­rested over the last 20 years for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion were not smok­ing in pub­lic, but sim­ply had a small amount in their pocket, purse or bag — a le­gal vi­o­la­tion, not a crim­i­nal of­fense. Th­ese peo­ple were ei­ther sub­ject to an il­le­gal search by po­lice or given a di­rec­tive by an of­fi­cer to empty their pock­ets or open their bags. The dis­cov­ery of mar­i­juana by po­lice then re­sulted in their ar­rest for pos­ses­sion in “pub­lic view.”

While drug use and drug sell­ing oc­cur at sim­i­lar rates across racial and eth­nic groups, black and Latino in­di­vid­u­als are ar­rested for pos­sess­ing mar­i­juana at vastly dis­pro­por­tion­ate rates. The racial dis­par­i­ties in th­ese ar­rests re­main as ex­treme as when Mayor de Bla­sio took of­fice in 2014 — which points to his fail­ure to re­form mar­i­juana en­force­ment pol­icy, de­spite his re­peated pledges to do so.

Fac­ing on­go­ing pub­lic pres­sure, in Novem­ber 2014 de Bla­sio and then-Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Bill Brat­ton an­nounced that the NYPD would fol­low the 1977 de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion law and not ar­rest peo­ple for small amounts of mar­i­juana. That change led to a de­crease in mar­i­juana ar­rests the fol­low­ing year, but ar­rests be­gan in­creas­ing again after 2015. The dis­pro­por­tion­ate en­force­ment in com­mu­ni­ties of color con­tin­ued un­abated, with peo­ple of color com­pris­ing 86% of those ar­rested in 2017 for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion, and 93% of those ar­rested so far in 2018.

This past Jan­uary, de Bla­sio, talk­ing about the more than 17,000 ar­rests in 2017, said we’ve “reached a nor­mal level in the sense of what we were try­ing to achieve.”

Back in 2016, the mayor pro­claimed, “We stopped the ar­rest for low-level mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion.” But there were more than 18,000 ar­rests for low-level pos­ses­sion that year — hardly a stop.

The ev­i­dence clearly shows that the mayor and NYPD have fallen short of end­ing racially bi­ased mar­i­juana ar­rests and cur­tail­ing the dam­ag­ing col­lat­eral con­se­quences that they carry. The mayor and com­mis­sioner’s an­nounce­ment of a 30-day study is in­sult­ing to the com­mu­nity — we need the ar­rests to end. Pe­riod.

An ar­rest in and of it­self is a trau­matic event and has a bevy of dam­ag­ing con­se­quences re­gard­less of how a case is pros­e­cuted. A mar­i­juana con­vic­tion is no small mat­ter — a crim­i­nal record causes ma­jor life-long bar­ri­ers, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to get a job, ed­u­ca­tion or hous­ing.

The re­cent an­nounce­ment that Man­hat­tan Dis­trict At­tor­ney Cy Vance Jr. will de­cline to pros­e­cute most mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion cases start­ing this sum­mer is an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse to the con­tin­ued ar­rests and will send a strong mes­sage to law en­force­ment of­fi­cers.

Brook­lyn DA Eric Gon­za­lez is con­sid­er­ing sim­i­lar ac­tion, as should all city and statewide dis­trict at­tor­neys.

The move to de­cline to pros­e­cute is crit­i­cally im­por­tant since the racial dis­par­i­ties con­tinue when peo­ple ar­rested for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion en­ter the court­house, as black and Latino peo­ple are much more likely to get con­victed and harshly pun­ished.

Ul­ti­mately, the NYPD’s bi­ased en­force­ment prac­tices show the need for ac­tual leg­isla­tive change.

If elected of­fi­cials are se­ri­ous about uphold­ing the rights of all New York­ers, they should sup­port the Mar­i­juana Reg­u­la­tion and Tax­a­tion Act, which would end mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion and cre­ate a sys­tem to tax and reg­u­late mar­i­juana, while also re­pair­ing and rein­vest­ing in com­mu­ni­ties that have been most harmed by the war on mar­i­juana.

Mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion is con­sid­er­ably more pop­u­lar than New York’s lead­ing elected of­fi­cials — for the sake of their ca­reers, and the thou­sands of lives hang­ing in the bal­ance, it’s time for them to take de­ci­sive ac­tion.

With 86% of peo­ple busted for pot pos­ses­sion ei­ther black or Latino, Mayor de Bla­sio says the NYPD will vir­tu­ally stop mak­ing such ar­rests.

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