Yesterday’s New York Times reports that Governor Cuomo will be asking the state legislature to change state law in a way that will sharply reduce the number of people who are arrested in that state each year for marijuana offenses.
Some background–Thousands and thousands of young males in New York City are stopped and frisked by the police each year. A remarkable number of those stops are illegal at the outset because there was no real reason for the person to be briefly detained. But once the involuntary encounter begins, an officer might direct the person to “empty your pockets!” If the stopped person brings out a plastic bag of marijuana, he gets busted for “possession of marijuana in public.” So the government that does a lousy job with the school system has been making matters worse by giving thousands and thousands of minority males a criminal record, making it even harder for them to establish themselves in the mainstream economy.
Drug warriors like to say “we’re not locking up marijuana users–that’s a myth.” Some truth in that because there is no longer any room in the prison system. Most of the marijuana prisoners are involved with the black market trade in some capacity. Still, tens of thousands of users do get busted and go thru the system.
Officials in the Cuomo administration said the marijuana-possession arrests were problematic in part because they subjected New Yorkers, many of them young, to the process of being booked, retaining a lawyer and carrying the stigma of having been arrested. And they argued that the arrests were harming the relationship between the police and young people.
According to Harry Levine of Queens College, there were 400,000 low-level marijuana arrests in New York City between 2002 and 2011. Prof. Levine presented some of his research findings at a Cato drug policy conference last year.
Mayor Bloomberg’s aggressive stop and frisk policy in New York City is an on-going scandal. Governor Cuomo deserves credit for this move to scale it back.