Pot Arrests Are Down In The City, But Not For People of Color

marijuanaThe NYPD arrested fewer people for marijuana in 2015 than they have in 20 years, but police continue to pick up blacks and Latinos at a much higher rate than other pot users, according to new data released Thursday.

The city made 16,590 arrests for low-level marijuana possession last year, almost half as many as the 26,386 tallied in 2014, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, which receives the data annually from the Department of Criminal Justice Services. Arrests have dropped steadily over the past four years. In 2011, more than 50,000 pot users were jailed in New York City. The NYPD policy announced in late 2014 that anyone carrying less than 25 grams would only get a summons has contributed to the decline.

Racial disparities in who is arrested for toking up persist at similar levels, however. About 88% of the people arrested for marijuana last year were black or Latino.

Racial disparities in who is arrested for toking up persist at similar levels, however. About 88% of the people arrested for marijuana last year were black or Latino.

“It’s heartening to see that arrests for marijuana possession are down significantly,” said state Sen, Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) in a statement. “But the numbers also show that enforcement continues to be heavily racialized, with communities of color bearing a disproportionate share of the costs.”

At a Drug Policy Alliance event this past summer, Krueger and other local politicians lamented that people of color in their districts continue to be arrested for marijuana, even as medical marijuana was approved in New York and views on widespread legalization have changed.

The shift in public sentiment has extended to city officials. Police Commissioner William Bratton has attempted to soften his public stance on the drug: In October, he confiscated a woman’s joint on the street, but let her go with just a lecture.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has gone even further. On Thursday morning, the mayor said he would be amenable to the idea of full legalization in New York.

“I think we have to see what happens in Colorado and in Washington state,” de Blasio said during a radio show on Hot 97 Thursday, picked up by The New York Observer.

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