Bill de Blasio

Nothing Changes: In Bill de Blasio's New York, Cops Still Making Petty Marijuana Arrests


for your own good
Runs With Scissors/

Police in New York City are still stopping people and compelling them to empty their pockets, then slapping them with a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession in the fifth degree—public display, a controversial and illegal practice meant as an end run around decriminalization laws on the books in New York for more than 30 years. In 2012, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for such public display of marijuana to be decriminalized too, a plan abandoned earlier this year. A local congressman, Democrat Hakeem Jeffries, tells The Huffington Post he thinks Cuomo dropped the decriminalization effort because New York's new mayor, Democrat Bill de Blasio, had promised to curb such (illegal!) arrests. Instead:

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.

In 2012, Commissioner Ray Kelly told cops in New York City to stop making such arrests. Bill de Blasio's pick, Bill Bratton, says he's against decriminalization (the law of the land for small amounts, except for public view) and defends low-level arrests as a crime-fighting measure. It's called the broken windows theory, and Bratton employed it when he served as police commissioner for Republican Rudolph Giuliani in the '90s; the idea was that going after "petty" criminals—like vandals and fare skippers—would cut down on more serious crimes too. Whether or not the theory holds, it hardly applies to getting someone to show you something that becomes a crime to possess only because you've shown it. It dismisses constitutional rights in a way that's not necessary for fighting crime or doing anything other than terrorizing select populations because you think they commit crimes. Will de Blasio get a pass because he was something Bloomberg never was—a Democrat?

UPDATE: Jacob Sullum covered the new data earlier this month.


NEXT: J.D. Tuccille on Why New Laws Are an Ineffective Response to Tragedies

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. In 2012, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for such public display of marijuana to be decriminalized too, a plan abandoned earlier this year.

    He only follows through with hastily removing rights, not re-affirming them.

  2. It’s almost as if no matter which leaders are elected the government agencies continue on exactly as they did under the one before.

    1. But… but… he promised me he’d change! He said he’d never hit me again!

  3. Will de Blasio get a pass because he was something Bloomberg never was?a Democrat?

    At risk of being the resident picker of nits, this isn’t true. Bloomberg was a lifelong Democrat until he ran for mayor in 2001, as the Democratic field was crowded.

    1. I await the correction.

    2. As a Brooklyn resident, most people I know refer to him as a Republican or, less often, an Independent.

    3. And New Yorkers are really turning on him. This morning was a rare time that I turned on local news at breakfast, and one of the co-hosts and a reporter were laying into de Blasio’s lack of transparency (he has a bunch of meetings and speeches today closed to the press, the day after he swore greater transparency). Not just resentment that the media wasn’t getting material, but accusing him of all these shady back-door deals, making promises in these appearances, etc. I think whatever few that still support him are those that are getting kickbacks.

  4. The institutional inertia in the NYPD is stronger than any single mayor or police commissioner.

    1. No kidding. It seems the real story here isn’t about marijuana or crime or civil rights, it’s about whether police are under “civilian” control or not. It should be pretty damn alarming that they are not.

      1. The United Police States of America … where we harshly enforce all laws past, present and even future (as envisioned by our overlords with badges).

      2. Exactly. The city where I live legalized marijuana, and the city cops just go along and make arrests as usual under state law.

        In other places there might be some consequence for politicians so clearly defying the will of the people at the local level, but here, where the Democrat machine has had a lock on nearly every local office for 80+ years, politicians have no fear. I think our city council has 3 felons on it, and I’m not talking about piddly bullshit felonies, either.

  5. “86 percent of them were black or Latino”

    So the cops should get to work making bogus “public display” arrests of white people. Equality!

  6. NPR covered this. No wait, it’s about affluent white dudes getting pulled over after flying private airplanes along “drug routes”.

    In one case last December, a private pilot drove away from the Lansing, Mich., airport after landing his small plane there. He was surrounded by 25 police vehicles containing 40 officers, some with guns drawn. Their explanation: Homeland Security flagged his plane as suspicious.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.