At a press conference outside One Police Plaza in Manhattan on Tuesday, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) pointed to recent data showing that thousands of New Yorkers are getting arrested for possessing pot, most of them minorities.
“The new administration promised change, but instead we got more of the same,” Jeffries said, referring to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign pledge to lower arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Data released earlier this month from the New York state Division of Criminal Justice Services shows that from January to March, more than 7,000 individuals were arrested in New York City for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and 86 percent of them were black or Latino. That number of arrests, Jeffries said, puts New York City on track to have just as many low-level marijuana arrests in 2014 as it did in 2013, when nearly 29,000 New Yorkers were busted for low-level marijuana possession.
The number of arrests in the first three months of 2014 are higher than they were in either of the last two three-month periods of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration in 2013.
The vast majority of marijuana arrests in New York City are for the lowest misdemeanor charge — criminal possession in the fifth degree — in which the arrestee either possessed less than two ounces of marijuana, or had the drug “in public view.”
Since 1977, possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana — a little less than an ounce — has been decriminalized in New York state. Under the law, those caught with such a small amount of weed are subject to a $100 violation for a first offense.
However, since the late-1990s, NYPD officers have been asking the hundreds of thousands of people they stop on the streets each year empty their pockets. In 2013, 85 percent of those people were black or Latino.
When pot comes out of the pocket, it becomes “in public view,” thus allowing police to make an arrest for misdemeanor criminal possession in the fifth degree. Arrestees can face up to three months in jail, and a criminal record.