Marijuana law just creates criminals

More than 50,000 people in 2011 were arrested in New York City for possessing small amounts of marijuana — the majority of whom were black and Latino — at a considerable judicial and financial cost. New York City spends about $75 million every year on arresting people for recreational marijuana possession.

But what many people don’t know is that the state decriminalized this offense more than 30 years ago, making private possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana a violation punishable by a $100 fine. Possession of the same amount in public view remains a criminal misdemeanor.

Despite this change in law, arrests for small quantities of marijuana over the last decade have skyrocketed, with more than 400,000 people arrested and unceremoniously run through the criminal justice system. Marijuana possession is now the No. 1 arrest category in New York.

Why is this happening?

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people in New York are stopped, questioned, frisked and searched, often without justification, under the “stop and frisk” policy. The vast majority of these people live in communities of color, and almost 90% are immediately released without arrest or even a summons.

Often, however, the police approach young people and instruct them to empty their pockets immediately and show the officers anything they have. People who have a small quantity of marijuana in their pockets take it out and hold it up. The marijuana is now in public view. Thousands of people are then arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession, punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.

Given the change of law in 1977, had the marijuana remained in the person’s pocket, possession would not have been a crime at all. But in complying with a police officer’s request, otherwise noncriminal behavior is instantly transformed into an arrest and unceremonious journey through the criminal justice system.

This is fundamentally unfair. Many view it as classic entrapment.

A majority of these arrests happen only in certain neighborhoods. Indeed, compounding the injustice is the fact that 85% of the people arrested are black and Latino. Yet studies consistently show that younger and affluent whites use marijuana in equal if not greater numbers.

The consequences of an arrest are severe, especially for young people of color who are already disproportionately subjected to criminal justice system intervention and incarceration. An arrest creates serious barriers to going to college or getting a job, and that person’s future may begin to spiral downward. The damage to police and community relations cannot be overstated.

Another serious problem is that these needless and inappropriate arrests detract from arresting and prosecuting serious criminals. Millions of dollars in law enforcement resources are wasted. Thousands of lives are damaged with the contamination of having a criminal record.

But New York is prepared to take a significant step forward to solve this problem. With the leadership of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, we are on the brink of finishing the job that the state Legislature started in 1977. We want to reduce the classification of possession of small quantities of marijuana in plain view from a misdemeanor to a violation.

Justice demands this change. The possession of small quantities of marijuana is either a crime or it is not. But it cannot be criminal activity for one group of people and socially acceptable behavior for another when the dividing line is race.

The connected and powerful — including many in high political office — have frequently admitted to smoking marijuana when they were young. We didn’t unmercifully penalize them. We should stop needlessly criminalizing tens of thousands of our young people for doing the same thing.



2 comments to Marijuana law just creates criminals

  • Wishbone

    anti weed laws are bad. WELL DUH.! for what must be the millionth time, WEED IS NOT ILLEGAL BECAUSE IT IS BAD, OR DESTRUCTIVE, (which it is'nt) ITS ILLEGAL BECAUSE "DU-PONT" WANTED IT ILLEGAL, WHY,?  BECAUSE IT WAS FOUND THAT A GOOD, CHEAP, FUEL COULD BE MADE FROM HEMP, (which would have given the oil industry a good kick in the balls) ALSO HIGH QUALITY PAPER, CLOTH, ROPE, AND EVEN PLASTIC, COULD BE MADE FROM HEMP, ALL OF WHICH WOULD HAVE PUT "DU-PONT'S" OIL BUSINESS OUT OF BUSINESS. ALSO IN IT'S MORE POTENT FORM IT CAN PROVIDE VERY GOOD, CLEAN, MEDICINES FOR MANY ILLNESSES INCLUDING CANCER, WHICH WOULD PUT THE EXISTING "DRUG" INDUSTRY ON THE DOLE. (most doctors know how useful it is) BUT I BELIEVE THE BIGGEST REASON IT IS ILLEGAL IS; PEOPLE WHO USE IT FOR RECREATIONAL PURPOSES TEND TO HAVE A CHANGED PERSPECTIVE OF LIFE, SPIRITUALITY, OR BEHAVOUR, THEY TEND TO NOT BELIEVE WHAT POLITICIANS TELL THEM, THEY TEND NOT TO FOLLOW THE MEDIA BULLSHIT, THEY TEND TO GIVE THE MIDDLE FINGER TO AUTHORITY, AND AUTHORITY REALLY IS SCARED SHITLESS ABOUT THAT POSSIBILITY…!!!!!!!  now just think about how many thousands of otherwise good people have had their homes torn apart in searches, the thousands of people in prison for using or selling a bit of weed, the thousands of people wounded and even killed by police over weed, not to mention the chaos these rediculous laws have created, and the billions spent on this unwinable stupid war.

  • In response to both American Jihad & Wishbone, hello!  Great comments.  Yes Jihad, the very problem with marijuana is simply because the feds  illegalized it.  Were America a true Constitutional Republic as it should be, the entire matter would be rendered null & void since we could choose for ourselves.  Racial profiling is a racist, evil plot to further disfranchenchise (sp?) racial minorities, create further obstacles in all areas of American life, & to further crowd prisons.  Wishbone hit the nail on the head!  Thank you!  The New World Order establishment convoluted the Congress having bought and paid high level mebers that lied to the Senate that the AMA at that time supported marijuana being illegal.  In fact, the lie was told and the AMA was deliberately not informed of the vote.  These facts can be found anywhere on the net under "AMA & medical marijuana."  What Wishbone says about hemp is exactly true.  The Du-Pont big money bought out key politicians to 1) make hemp illegal since it competes with petro-chemical tech in all areas.  Marijuana has so many multi-functional essentail uses for humanity is well documented.  Everything that marijuana IS, petroleum IS NOT!  Marijuana can cure cancer, petroleum causes it, tec., as just one example of countless, numerous examples.  The bankers own the nation, Chinese banks in particular, a well planned take-over by the Skull & Bones Bildenburg neo-cons since 1920.  While alcohol has a few medical applications, especially of the "moon shine grade," such as in sterilizing surgical tools in the pre-high steam pressure tecnique we use now, its use in necessary surgical procedures prior to morphine's discovery & modern anesthesia.  While a one ounce shot of alcohol or a glass of wine is scientifically proven "healthy" for health, I have NEVER known of anyone that uses alcohol, while I'm sure they exist, use it in a healthy fashion, in fact, just the opposite.  How many people die either directly or indirectly from health issues or the more serious, killing of innocent people in DWI auto-accidents.  How many have ever died, that can be conclusively proven, from driving under marijuana's influence or by direct useage?  ZERO!  Clearly, the only reason that marijuana was illegalized & remains so is due to an anti-Constitutional, big business $ agenda!  No rational, science based reason for marijuana to be continued to be listed as a schedule I drug & illegal is COMPLETELY CORRUPT!  I challenge any of the opposition to prove otherwise, right here, right now!

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