De Blasio Is Busting Just As Many Pot Smokers As Bloomberg Did


Office of the Mayor

A month ago I noted that, despite a big drop in stop-and-frisk encounters during the first three months of Bill de Blasio's tenure as mayor of New York City, low-level pot busts were down just 8.5 percent compared to the first quarter of 2013. Another month of data makes De Blasio and his police commissioner, Bill Bratton, look even worse on this front. According to the latest numbers from the Marijuana Arrest Research Project (MARP), New York cops busted an average of 80 pot smokers a day during the first four months of this year, slightly higher than the daily average of 78 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly during the same period of last year. Now as then, the arrestees are overwhelmingly (86 percent) black or Latino, overwhelmingly (79 percent) between the ages of 16 and 34, and overwhelmingly (73 percent) first-time offenders. MARP concludes that "marijuana arrest patterns in the first four months of 2014 under de Blasio and Bratton are indistinguishable from those of their predecessors in 2013."

In 2013 there were a total of 28,644 minor possession arrests, down 43 percent from the peak of 50,684 in 2011 but still above the historical norm. Given De Blasio's rhetoric about the "two New Yorks" and his criticism of racially skewed law enforcement, his supporters could be forgiven for expecting that downward trend to continue. Instead it seems to be stalling, which is especially disturbing given that New York supposedly decriminalized marijuana possession way back in 1977. Since then possession of up to 25 grams (about nine-tenths of an ounce) has been a citable offense unless the pot is publicly displayed, which is a misdemeanor. It is hard to believe that cops are catching 80 people a day brazenly smoking pot right in front of them. It seems likely that, as in the past, at least some of these busts occur after marijuana is brought into public view through police intervention, which means they are legally invalid. In any case, cops surely have better things to do than bust pot smokers.

Two years ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recommended decriminalizing public display of marijuana to address "gaping racial disparities" and "save thousands of New Yorkers, particularly minority youth, from the unnecessary and life-altering trauma of a criminal arrest" while avoiding "countless man-hours wasted" on "what is clearly only a minor offense." He reiterated his support for that reform in his 2013 State of the State address. But a year later, after De Blasio was elected, Cuomo decided such legislation was no longer necessary. "It's not timely in the way it was last year," he said in January. Evidently subjecting minority youth to "the unnecessary and life-altering trauma of a criminal arrest" is OK as long as a Democrat does it.