Drug War

After Illegally Busting Pot Smokers for More Than a Decade, the NYPD Starts Following the Law a Little More Often


Three months ago, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told the city's cops to stop manufacturing misdemeanors by tricking pot smokers into "displaying" marijuana and then arresting them for what would otherwise be a citable offense (possession of up to 25 grams). Since then, according to numbers released today, the number of minor pot busts has fallen by 13 percent compared to the same period last year. That may sound like good progress, except that research by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, which forced Kelly's hand by highlighting what had been a little-noticed crackdown on pot smokers, indicates that most marijuana possession arrests in New York during the last decade and a half—a lot more than 13 percent—were trumped up in ways that Kelly himself now says are illegal. The Drug Policy Alliance, which published some of Levine's research, says it shows "the vast majority of the marijuana arrests in New York City—up to 75 percent in some precincts—are the result of illegal searches and false charges."

Levine found that the arrests typically emerged from "stop and frisk" encounters during which officers either instructed people to take out their marijuana or removed it themselves. According to Kelly's September 19 directive, "the public display of marijuana must be an activity undertaken of the subject's own volition," and the charge is not legally appropriate "if the marijuana recovered was disclosed to public view at an officer's discretion." After routinely flouting the law for more than a decade, the NYPD must do more than try to follow it a little more often. "The crusade continues regardless of the 13% drop," says Chino Hardin of the Institute for Juvenile Justice  Reform and Alternatives. "When we see the numbers decrease by 80%, then we will know that the NYPD is meaningfully following and upholding the law."

In September I discussed Kelly's belated acknowledgment of his officers' blatant lawlessness in the New York Daily News:

The number of marijuana possession arrests in New York City from 1997 through 2006—when pot use, judging from the federal government's survey data, did not rise significantly—was more than 10 times the number in the previous 10 years. During Kelly's tenure, the number has averaged 38,835 a year, compared with about 2,260 under Ed Koch, 980 under David Dinkins and 24,775 under Giuliani. Last year, it was 50,383, more than the total number of arrests during the 19 years from 1978 (the year after the Legislature decriminalized possession) through 1996 (the year before the anti-pot crusade began).

This is the sort of trend you'd think the police commissioner would notice. The pot busts are largely an outgrowth of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program, which focuses on supposedly suspicious individuals in predominately black and Latino neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, the arrestees are overwhelmingly blacks and Latinos and mostly young men….

By the police commissioner's own account, arrests in these circumstances are illegal, which means that most of the 350,000 or so pot smokers busted on his watch were wrongly detained, wrongly jailed, wrongly booked and wrongly saddled with criminal justice records and all the attendant expense, inconvenience and humiliation. In these circumstances, nearly a decade into a pot bust binge overseen by Kelly, asking police to try to follow the law from now on seems rather inadequate.

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  1. I thought my hatred for the police would quell after my early 20’s… nope

    1. Just know that the wrongdoers will be investigated and those found guilty will be pun….


  2. Good.

    Got bacon?

  3. And I’m sure that any day now they’ll purge the records and issue refunds for any fines incurred to all those people they’ve improperly busted over the decade.


  4. Meh

    This stupid shit where tiny bits of weed are legal in certain circumstances pisses me off. If it’s so important to ban teh drugzz in order to Save The Children then it should be illegal, period. It’s because the goddamn hippies smoked weed all the time, and now they’re in charge so theres all these little carve outs and exemptions and citations instead of charges and what not. But not the bad drugs like meth, because only white trash want that. And crack is for Those People in The Inner Cities.

    Because I honestly am coming around to a “the worst the better” scenario. This creeping, ratcheting encroachment of the State inures people to the loss of freedom. If they go full crazy all of a sudden, adopt Singapore style drug penalties, mandatory cavity searches at airports, let the FCC off the chain, allow Holder his dark fantasies, etc. then maybe people will finally wake the fuck up.

    Probably not though.

    1. I’d rather people not be punished for small amounts of weed even though I support legalizing all drugs.

      1. I feel like it keeps people from taking a stand. Because they get a citation or they have to do some sort of class or group therapy and the charge is expunged. If every single college kid who gets busted with weed was thrown in jail and missed a semester I feel like their parents might be willing to reconsider their support for the War on Drugs.

        As it is I feel like white middle class people get to slide out with a slap on the wrist or by paying the mordida to the State, and so they don’t care. They want to throw “those people” in jail for smoking bad drugs. The weed they smoked in college (or even to this day) and the weed their kids smoke in college is totally different.

        1. spare me the race card crap.

          in jurisdictions that treat weed like a civil infraction, or a barely criminal misdemeanor, race is irrelevant

          race is largely irrelevant in the legal system ,frankly. CLASS is relevant

          oj , etc. proves that money can buy a guilty man an acquittal. money is the relevant factor, not race

          1. *DING DING DING!!!!* we have a winner!!!

          2. It’s not that simple though. Are you seriously going to tell me that black kids busted on possession have an easier or equivalent time compared to white kids? Come on dunphy. There’s towing the lion, and there’s useful idiocy.

            But say you’re right about it being class not race. Ok. Fine. How is it that middle class people get to say three Hail Mary’s to the God State and then walk away with their lives unruined, while lower class people (be they ghetto blacks, backwoods hicks, or illegal immigrants) get royally fucked over for the rest of their lives?

            If, as the Drug Warriors tell us, it is true that drugs are an existential threat to the fabric of society, then everyone must be held accountable. If it’s that big a deal, then throw Taylor and Brad and Ashley in jail with Carlos and Jim Bob and Dequan.

            1. class = money. The system has always been worked to the benefit of those with it. Come on…if Robert Downey is Bob Monroe, he’s still serving time; having means being able to work out a deal because not even prosecutors want to fill jails over someone with a bong.

              1. first of all, all NORML propaganda aside, it is VERY difficult to get jail time for mere mj possession.

                i don’t care if you are famous or not,or rich or not

                the exception is for people with multiple priors, especially violent felonies… they are going to get spanked for almost ANYTHING

                we arrested a kid yesterday for MIP, which is about the lowest grade offense around (minor in possession), but he happens to be a career burglar (at 19 years old… pretty impressive) and is on felony probation

                he WILL get jail time.

                he would get it for weed too

                that’s because his probation says “no law violation” and MIP *is* one.

                the fact that he was running around in 25 degree weather acting like an asshole, with no shirt on didn’t help his cause.

                i probably saved him from hypothermia, because if i hadn’t found him (about to go into a wooded area) he probably would have just laid down and slept it off.. .

                oh, and he was white btw :l

                either way, if it had been MJ, and he gets threee months, people would be like “he got three months for a joint!”

                when he got 3 months for probation violation.

                that’s the point.

                in this case it was MIP.

                1. oh, to clarify “Minor in possession” of ALCOHOL not weed

                  1. oh, to clarify “Minor in possession” of ALCOHOL not weed

                    Police LOOOVE catching people on technicalities, but bitch to high heaven when a person is freed on a technicality.

            2. The race disparity does exist but not nearly to the same extent with weed. This is particularly true in jurisdictions that treat marijuana less harshly, just like dunphy said. If we were talking about cocaine it would be a different story. He also pointed it that it is largely not because they are black but because they are poor. Drug laws are enforced more heavily in the inner cities than they are in the suburbs even though drug use is pretty similar.

              1. i agree, but it’s not because of race.

                it’s much more complex than that.

                one of the reasons is that inner city drug markets tend to be more open air, thus far more prone to police intervention

                regardless, i don’t think the data supports that given an arrest for weed , or other drug, given the same economic background (iow ability to afford a good lawyer) , priors, etc. that a black guy would get any better or worse a sentence htan a white guy

                cocaine was a special case where crack, which happens to be more favored by blacks than powder cocaine, which happens to be more favored by white, received a much harsher sentence.

                that’s unfair, and has disparate racial impact, but it’s not based on race

                penalties for meth, which is about as lilly white a drug as you can get, are pretty harsh btw.

            3. the line is the CW amongst liberals, with their disparate impact theory.

              i am saying that given similar circs, income levels, etc. outcomes in the legal system are roughly similar

              INCOME makes a huge difference. imo, race does not

            4. oh btw. the war on drugs is unjust as fuck


              but it’s not that different from other crimes, in that people with MONEY have better results when arrested for same, JUST LIKE ANY CRIME, generally speaking

              as chris rock says, if OJ wasn’t all rich and shit, he’d be Orenthal James Simpson the convicted murderer.

  5. Goodness.. they have to stop spending our money on this insane war on a weed that will still be around in abundance after we are all dead and gone.

    I’m of an age where I have paid a significant part of my earnings in taxes .. and when I look back to the last 40 years of my paying significant taxes, and I realize that we have spent over 1 trillion (with a T) dollars on this failed war on a weed, and I do the math and I realize there are probably only less than 200 million tax paying adults in the US, and less than half are in any bracket to mention.. but for those who are…

    For the last 40 years, a trillion dollars, divided up amongst not that many people.. do the math.. no wonder we are all scrapping.. our hard earned money is being used sooooooo foolishly it makes me want to spit.

    Please demand to stop spending our money this way.. they say they have 92 billion allocated for next year alone (including Federal level and Federal monies to the states for state use eradicating weeds)…. we can’t afford such insane foolishness..

  6. Please demand to stop spending our money this way…

    Duh! I did! I voted for Obama in ’08 because he said he was going to let the states figure this one out. I think it’s working out well so far.

  7. Kelly’s directive may be aimed at pre-empting a legislative solution. Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) have introduced a bill that would treat public display the same as possession for small amounts of marijuana, thereby reducing the opportunity for phony-baloney arrests.

    I think Sullum’s previous post hit the nail on the head concerning Ray’s motivation for doing this. He didn’t want legislation forcing his hand.

  8. imo, this was a disgusting abuse of police power, and these officers should all get suspensions.

    period. full stop

    1. Will they?

      1. i have no idea.

        i am speaking normatively.

        god only knows what NYPD’s policy manual etc. says about stuff like this

    2. They should be fired.

      Period. Full stop.

      When those charged with upholding the law use and abuse it in this manner, they have become lawless, and have no business wielding any kind of authority.


      1. fair enuf. i can respect that pov

  9. ah, the daily drug story. I was starting to get disappointed over its absence. I favor legalization of pot as much as anyone but jeez folks, it’s like the only tune the Reason Drum Circle knows.

  10. “the public display of marijuana must be an activity undertaken of the subject’s own volition,” and the charge is not legally appropriate “if the marijuana recovered was disclosed to public view at an officer’s discretion.”

    Shouldn’t that read “disclosed to public view at an officer’s direction”?

  11. Shamelessly OT:

    This is starting to get really real.

    1. Too bad Europeans are, by and large, raging pussies when it comes to personally owned guns. With the exception of the Swiss, who are not a part of the Eurozone, there’s not a country that has a high percentage of gun ownership.

      Martial Law and shootings in the street by armed thugs agents of the state will be the order of the day, and it will be done to a defenseless population.

      1. interesting stats

        gun ownership per country…


        1. Honestly lol at the Frogs beating the Canucks

          1. If I recall, a lot of Canucks started hiding their (long) guns in the early/mid nineties before the long gun registry was created. Or at least, a lot claimed they were.

      2. I seriously believe it’s possible that by 2020 what parts of Europe aren’t corporatist police states run cleanly German-style will resemble Liberia or any other west african nation in the ’90s: armed freelance thugs running wild overseen by local despots that don’t care or join in the fun.

        1. Hahaha… O.K.

          1. You laugh, but the second scenario describes a lot of Italy already.

            1. it describes sicily for many generations. granted, most sicilians don’t really think of themselves as part of italy

      3. I’ve seen plenty of OC and CCW here in the Czech Republic. I saw a dude have a gun fall out and bounce down the escalator in the metro and no one said jack shit. I know a guy who OC’d his 9mm for years.

    2. Of course they would go for small calibre weapons, a bolt-action .22 is like the only thing that isn’t banned in half the countries.

      1. This guy is an analyst dealing with entire nations and trans-national issues. I suspect when he says “small caliber weapons”, he just means “not crew-served artillery”.

  12. NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly Wins 2011 BULL CONNOR AWARD

    watch us punk the world’s top cop

    We’ve answered a call put out by Carl Dix and Cornel West. We’ve been marching, learning, educating, creating theatre, and getting arrested in demonstrations of civil disobedience in protest of the illegitimate, illegal, and racist practice of Stop & Frisk – a policy that is, for our efforts, very much in the public debate.

    Over 90% of the citizens the police are stopping are completely innocent. This policy doesn’t have to end now, it has to end right now. We’re doing it. Stop Stop & Frisk

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