In New York City, marijuana activists and some elected officials are coming together this Saturday, May 12, to protest marijuana enforcement practices by the city’s police force, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Advocates believe that the enforcement practices are racist, discriminating against people of color.
The Drug Policy Alliance is speaking out against city officials because they believe that white residents frequently get away with marijuana possession, while black residents are thrown in jail for the same offense.
Whether or not the racism is intentional, the DPA may be on to something. Data released by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services shows that white residents accounted for the highest use of marijuana, but the lowest amount of marijuana related arrests in 2007. Black residents had slightly lower levels of marijuana use than whites, but almost 10 times more black residents were arrested for marijuana related offenses that white residents in 2007.
Advocates believe that police are targeting minorities for illegal searches, which sometimes leads to them displaying marijuana that they had in their pockets. According to a New York Times editorial, 87% of those arrested for low-level marijuana offenses are black or Hispanic.
Marijuana was decriminalized in New York in 1977. However, if someone is seen with marijuana in public, they can be charged with a misdemeanor and jailed. Marijuana-related arrests have skyrocketed since Mayor Bloomberg became mayor in 2002– there have been more marijuana-related arrests in his ten years as mayor than in the prior 24 years combined.
Marijuana advocates in who are against illegal arrests and biased police practices in New York are gathering on Saturday May 12th at noon at Foley Square between Lafayette St. and Center Street.