For decades marijuana arrests have clogged the New York City jail system. A November 2014 shift in policy has provided some much needed relief in recent weeks.
New city policies have shifted towards issuing summonses and violations instead of performing misdemeanor arrests. Individuals found carrying only a very modest amount of marijuana are cited, released and must appear in court at a later date. The number of arrests have decreased dramatically from 1,820 to only 460 in December.
Pro-marijuana activists are not claiming victory yet. Much of the decline in arrests within New York City came after the shooting death of two police officers on December 20th. The numbers are promising but slim in scope, with many hope the numbers will continue to decline as the year goes on.
Possession of less than 25 grams of pot is the lowest level marijuana charge in the city. In 2011, the city experienced its highest marijuana arrest count at 50,700. By 2013, the number had decreased to roughly 29,000 arrests when the public began to take notice of the situation and the overburdened jail system. 2014 saw a 6 percent decrease in similar arrests by the end of the year at a total of 26,400.
The change in policy does not mean the law itself is changing. Current state law still makes it a misdemeanor to have up to 25 grams of pot in public view, but police officers in New York City are now trying to focus on more serious issues by treating marijuana possession as a non-criminal issue. In cases when people are caught smoking marijuana in public, police have been told to still make arrests.
Many critics of Mayor De Blasio say the new policies aren’t enough. More summonses issued, they say, will put the burden on the summons court. The mayor is sticking to the policy because he believes the drop in marijuana arrests will help police deal with more serious issues instead of filling out paperwork and processing inmates for minor offenses.
In 1980, New York City arrested only 1,314 people for marijuana offenses. This number is in stark contrast to the height of the pot arrest levels at 51,267 in 2000. The numbers will continue to decline as the national push for marijuana legalization continues.