Please don't take this article as an endorsement of marijuana. I've made posts at certain points during the course of the year with consideration of decriminalizing drugs. Of course this piece should remind you of another post I made where a family finds itself entangled in the criminal justice system because of incarcerated informants looking for a way out of prison sooner. There's should be no doubt even if this country accepts the need to continue the criminalization of drugs that there should be some changes made in the system.
I have been intermittently reporting on the NYPD for half a century—sometimes admiringly, as when I spent several weeks with a homicide squad on the Lower East Side, learning how (in contrast to the CIA's current methods) confessions that will hold up in court can be obtained by detectives without laying a hand on the suspect. And I've also written critically about the police, as well as various commissioners. But I have never seen such systematic dishonesty and contempt for the law as those documented in the 102-page report, "Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City 1997-2007," by Professor Harry Levine of Queens College and Deborah Peterson Small, executive director of Break the Chains.
In 2007 alone, there were 39,700 misdemeanor arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. But such possession hasn't been a crime in New York State since the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977. Under that law, which is still in effect, an offender can usually expect to get only a ticket, punishable by a fine of not more than $100.
But most of the 353,000 New Yorkers arrested for having these small amounts from 1997 to 2006 got much more than a ticket: They were handcuffed, photographed, and fingerprinted, held overnight, arraigned in criminal court, plagued with permanent criminal records, and charged with the crime of having marijuana "burning or open to public view."
Since most of these people arrested had the pot hidden in a pocket, backpack, or purse, how did these stop-and-frisks turn into an arrest for "burning" marijuana" or having it "open to public view"?
As "Marijuana Arrest Crusade" demonstrates, this is done "by tricking and intimidating" suspects to take out the concealed marijuana, so that police officers can then claim they saw it "open to public view." In fact, a longtime Legal Aid supervisor quoted in the study says that this process happens "all the time." And such routine deception by the police to set someone up for arrest on a criminal-misdemeanor charge is perfectly legal.
There is much more detailed information in the report on the impact of these arrests, which—as described in last week's column— greatly and disproportionately affect black and Latino youths. Part 7, "Head Start for Unemployment and Prison," notes that these arrests "can limit the opportunity for young people to obtain employment and access to some schools, and for student aid."
BTW, I suggest you go read the whole thing.