Drug War

Imagine How Much They'd Spend on Pot Busts If Marijuana Possession Hadn't Been Decriminalized

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A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance estimates that New York City spends $75 million a year to arrest people for marijuana possession, even though possession of up to 25 grams (about nine-tenths of an ounce) is not an arrestable offense in New York state. The report's authors, Queens College sociologist Harry Levine and drug policy researcher Loren Siegel (formerly with the ACLU), note that "carrying a small amount of marijuana in a pocket, backpack or purse…is not a crime" in New York. It is a citable offense, similar to a traffic violation, punishable by a $100 fine. But as Levine has shown, police in New York City routinely trick people (overwhelmingly young blacks and Hispanics) into taking out their marijuana and exposing it to "public view," which converts a citable offense into a misdemeanor. "From 1997 through 2010," Levine and Siegel report, "the NYPD made 536,000 arrests for marijuana possession." This little-noticed crackdown on pot smokers, they estimate based on conservative assumptions, has cost taxpayers between $500 million and $1 billion. That's on top of "the serious human costs and consequences," which include not only the inconvenience and humiliation of the arrest and time spent in jail but permanent criminal records that can be a lifelong handicap.

Go here for more on Levine's studies of marijuana arrests in New York and California.