The Costs of Marijuana Criminalization

The Costs of Marijuana Criminalization March 17, 2011

The Drug Policy Alliance has a new report that illustrates the staggering cost of criminalizing marijuana possession in America’s largest city. The numbers are mind-blowing.

• In 2010, New York City spent approximately $75 million arresting and jailing people, mostly young people, simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana…

Low-level marijuana possession offenses (NY State Penal Law 221.10) are the number one arrest in New York City. The NYPD makes nearly a thousand arrests and jailings a week for simple marijuana possession — one of every seven arrests, and nearly 350,000 marijuana possession arrests since Bloomberg became mayor. At $1,000 – $2,000 per arrest, this “marijuana arrest crusade” costs $75 million or more dollars a year.


It continues:

“More people have been arrested for marijuana possession under Mayor Bloomberg than under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Guiliani combined,” said report co- author Dr. Harry Levine, a sociology professor at City University of New York and a national expert on marijuana arrests. “These arrests are wildly expensive, do not improve public safety, and create permanent criminal records which seriously damage the life chances of the young people targeted and jailed,” Levine said…

“Upwards of 75 million dollars have been used to arrest NYC residents for marijuana possession that could have legally been handled with a summons and not a criminal offense. This, as we are debating closing our senior centers. In addition, 86% of those arrests are young children of more color. I don’t believe that this represents the percentage of people who take the occasional “pull.” It does however better reflect the communities abused by the current stop and frisk policies. Had this been 86% of our young children of a lighter shade, there would be uproar. I believe there still should be. All of our children are gifts to be nurtured; yet we are losing them to the system at an alarming rate. There must be a better way to deal with drugs in New York City. These arrests are simply about boosting arrest numbers and aren’t the answer to our problems,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams…

Over 70% of these arrests are of young people 16-29, most of them Black and Latino, even though studies show that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than blacks or Latinos.

“The consequences of an arrest are severe, especially for young people of color who are already disproportionally arrested and incarcerated in juvenile facilities,” said Kyung Ji Rhee, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. “Young people of color are targeted, illegally searched and being put through the criminal justice system for possessing or smoking marijuana. Whatever your opinion may be on marijuana, this is no way to treat or teach young people about the choices they make.”

That last part is the most disturbing part of all. Black and Latino kids are actually less likely to smoke pot than white kids, yet they are arrested for possession far more often. You arrest a kid for that and you only make it more likely that he will remain a permanent part of the underclass and become a real criminal. We are creating criminals and getting nothing in return for it.


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