New York decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana over 30 years ago. So why have arrests for marijuana possession skyrocketed there, making it the #1 arrest category in the state? The answer is ironic.
When the state decriminalized possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana, they left possession of the same amount in public view a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. That may seem reasonable, since lawmakers didn’t want people going around smoking weed openly in public. But instead, it created a classic Catch 22.
Often, however, the police approach young people and instruct them to empty their pockets immediately and show the officers anything they have. People who have a small quantity of marijuana in their pockets take it out and hold it up. The marijuana is now in public view.
So if the police order you to empty your pockets, you can either refuse their order, which is itself a crime, or you can pull the not-a-crime marijuana out of your pocket and turn it into a crime, for which you will be arrested. The police are essentially ordering you to commit a crime. Isn’t that entrapment?
In 2011, more than 50,000 people were arrested for criminal possession in New York City alone, costing the government around $75 million in judicial and financial cost. The punch line, of course, is that 85% of those arrested for criminal possession are black or latino, even though studies consistently show that whites use marijuana as much or more than minorities.
The possession of small quantities of marijuana is either a crime or it is not. But it cannot be criminal activity for one group of people and socially acceptable behavior for another when the dividing line is race.
Even worse, this trick takes people who are not actually committing any crime and turns them into criminals with a criminal record. Even just having an arrest on your record makes it more difficult to go to college or get a job.
In an age when many people, including our last three presidents, have admitted to smoking marijuana, isn’t this not just hypocritical, but blatant racism?