Rudolph Giuliani and the Marijuana Arrest Crusade

Rudolph Giuliani’s mug shot and the 2008 "Marijuana Arrest Crusade" booklet

When Rudy Giuliani was arrested and his mug shot went far and wide yesterday, I posted the embarrassing photo like everyone else on social media.

I also commented:

For all those arrested for weed in NYC under his watch.

When the former federal prosecutor was elected mayor in 1994, marijuana use and possession was pretty much tolerated in New York. In 1993, 1,450 arrests were made. In his first year, that figure more than doubled to 3,400. The numbers went up progressively, as NYPD lauched a "qualify of life" campaign that went after public pot smoking as well as other petty crimes, to 6,000 in 1995, 9,800 in 1996 and then doubled again to 18,400 in 1997 and again to 33,200 in 1998 and 34,100 in 1999.

The year before 9/11 had the most marijuana arrests ever: 51,500.

Giuliani finished off his two terms with 41,800 more arrests for an eight-year total of 198,200. That's an average of 24,775 arrests per year.

Stop and frisk, subsequently declared unconstitutionalwas at the root of the marijuana arrest crusade.

Michael Bloomberg grabbed the baton and ran with it when he succeeded Giuiliani as New York Mayor in 2002. Bloomberg escalated the pot pogrom to extreme heights, peaking with back-to-back 50k arrest years in 2010 and 2011 – not much more than a decade ago. Bloomberg's busts exceeded Giuliani by a lot - some 438k arrests over his 12 years and an outrageous three terms for an average of 31,400.

To understand how this all happened I consulted the booklet titled Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City 1997-2007 written by Harry H. Levine and Deborah Peterson Small and published in 2008. Pages 5 and 6 read in part:

The ten-fold increase in marijuana possession arrests began as an initiative of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The arrests have continued unabated under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In 2007, NYPD made 39,700 misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests, the fourth largest number of such arrests in New York history. Because the New York Police Department has released almost no information about these arrests, they have attracted little media attention. To this day few New Yorkers know that for over a decade their city has been on a historically unprecedented marijuana arrest crusade.

New York's marijuana arrests were NOT part of a similar nationwide increase in marijuana arrests. From 1990 to 2000 marijuana arrests in the U.S. went up about two and a half times. Marijuana possession arrests increased ten fold and make up at least 10% of all arrests in New York City.

New York's rate of marijuana arrests is NOT in line with the arrest rates of other large U.S. cities. Few cities anywhere arrest and jail people for marijuana at per captia rate that New York does. Because of its large size and high rate of arrests, New York City now arrests and jails more people for possessing marijuana than any city in the United States, and more than any city in the world.

Police typically discovered marijuana by stopping and searching people, often by tricking and intimidating them into revealing it. When people then took out the marijuana, they were then arrested and charged with the crime of having marijuana "open to public view." The marijuana possession arrests are in part the fruit of New York City's aggressive stop and frisk campaign.

It is long past time for the people of New York to know about and address what its police department and criminal justice system have been doing in this and other matters.

Stop and frisk, subsequently declared unconstitutionalwas at the root of the marijuana arrest crusade. Harry Levine brought this to drug policy reformers' attention. Many of us were unaware of how stop and frisk was being used as a tactic to bust pot smokers. That's why the numbers went sky high. Levine was also quick to note marijuana arrests in New York City were "racially skewed."

Giuliani in orange would be sweet solace for so many who suffered because of his malice and disregard for the civil rights of cannabis users. 

RELATED: My New York Marijuana Arrest Story (2012)


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

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