International Cannabis Business Conference

Dear deBlasio: Your Pot Policy Is dePressing

Young arrestees being led into the Brooklyn Court House in chains. (Photo by Jarrett Murphy/City Limits)

New York Mayor Bill deBlasio is officially a liar. While campaigning for mayor, he called the high number of marijuana arrests that have plagued the city for the last two decades "ridiculous." However, during his first three months in office, weed busts have increased 9% over the last three months of 2013.

"At 28,000 arrests a year, New York still makes more marijuana possession arrests than any city in the world," says Harry Levine, co-director of Marijuana Arrest Research Project. "Yet the simple possession of marijuana has not been a crime in New York State since 1978. Isn't it time for these unfair, biased, damaging, often illegal arrests to just stop, now?"

Arrests decreased from 39, 218 in 2012 to 28,644 in 2013. The previous two years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg saw in excess of 50,000 arrests for marijuana each year.

During his campaign, deBlasio opposed the stop-and-frisk policy that leads to the vast majority of pot arrests. "I would instruct the NYPD (to) stop arresting people for displays of small amounts," he maintained. "It doesn't make us safer." He added on his website, "Low-level marijuana possession arrests have disastrous consequences for individuals and their families."

Clearly, this is not happening. From Jan. to Mar., there were 7,017 arrests compared to 6,350 (from Oct. to Dec.) and 6,958 (from July to Sept.). The racial disparities remain virtually the same: 87% of the arrestees are black and Latinos.

While cannabis has been decriminalized in New York State since 1977, a loophole in the law allows for misdemeanor arrests when marijuana is "in public view," which happens when someone is frisked and removes a joint, blunt or bag of pot from his or her pocket under duress. "In public view" also includes the act of smoking or even the smell of marijuana detected by an officer.

DeBlasio hired William Bratton to be his police commissioner, replacing Ray Kelly. This was not promising. The architect of stop-and-frisk during his first stint as head police honcho in New York under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Bratton has made some high-level department changes, but apparently forgot to send the memo about ending these "ridiculous" marijuana arrests.

At a City Council hearing on May 20, Bratton stated, "The idea of decriminalizing marijuana, I think, is a major mistake and something I will never support." This pretty much says it all. Why deBasio hired Bratton is anyone's guess; it certainlyy wasn't forward thinking.

City Council president Melissa Mark-Viverito slammed Bratton after the hearing: "Let me be clear: at the state level, since the 1970s, for small quantities, it’s been decriminalized. My hope is that this is the next major policy change under the NYPD so we can curtail the number of African American and Latino youth that are being criminalized.”

On May 27, Brooklyn Congressman and former City Council member Hakeem Jeffries called on deBlasio to reduce marijuana arrests. "The NYPD remains on track to match the same number of arrests for possession of small quantity of marijuana as compared to the final year of the Bloomberg administration," he stated. "That is not the change that we expected. We need a fair and responsible policy that doesn't necessarily criminalize tens of thousands of individuals, and the policy should be enforced in a race-neutral fashion."

Further backtracking, deBlasio added, "I don’t think it makes sense to do a full scale legalizing."

That would be terrific, but it's not the issue at hand. The issue is complying with the spirit of the 1977 decriminalization law. Maybe it will take for his own son or daughter to be arrested for deBlasio to ge the message, like what happened to Brooklyn resident Sharpriece Townsend in 2011 when he was spnt three days in jail on a marijuana charge.

"I want to call out de Blasio - you broke your promise," he says sharply. "You said you would end stop-and-frisk and end illegal marijuana arrests. You have a son that looks like me that lives in Brooklyn. But can you really understand how I feel, and understand that your son would feel the same way as I feel?"

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.