New York is moving toward legalization of marijuana for recreational use, but young and nonwhite people are still getting arrested for marijuana-related offenses at disproportionately higher levels throughout the state, according to a new report.
The most current data contained in the report, authored by researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is from 2017, and thus does not take into account recent policy changes by the New York City government and district attorneys within the city for police and prosecutors to take a lighter touch on possession and public smoking.
But the data shows that, since 1990 in New York City and since 2002 for the rest of the state, the racial disparities in marijuana arrests have grown while the total number of arrests have declined, said Preeti Chauhan, director of John Jay’s Misdemeanor Justice Project and one of the authors of the report.
“As enforcement goes down, we won’t necessarily see a narrowing in racial disparities,” Chauhan said.
The report states that in New York City, for every one white person arrested for a low-level marijuana offense in 2017, about eight black people were arrested. The disparity is even greater in counties outside of the city, according to the report.
Last year, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced that his office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession and public smoking and his counterpart in Brooklyn, Eric Gonzalez, also announced that he would stop going after most low-level offenders as well as vacate some past marijuana-related convictions.
In recent months, Albany County District Attorney David Soares and Westchester County District Attorney Anthony Scarpino Jr. announced that their offices would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana offenses.
The data contained in the report also shows that, while arrest rates for possession and public smoking in New York City plunged from a peak of almost 51,600 in 2011 to 18,214 in 2017, there were still more arrests in the latter year than there were in 1990, when there were 1,038 arrests.
Meanwhile, for the rest of the state, arrests for low-level offenses have steadily increased from 1990 to 2017.