Bill de Blasio

De Blasio’s reduction in pot arrests doesn’t go far enough

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's recent announcement addresses the severity but not the disparity of marijuana enforcement.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill announce a new policy to reduce unnecessary marijuana arrests.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill announce a new policy to reduce unnecessary marijuana arrests. Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

The politics and policies of cannabis in New York have shifted so dramatically in the public sphere over the last two months that it would be easy to see any movement as major progress to be embraced and celebrated. Last month, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to develop policy combating the racial disparity in marijuana enforcement, advocates such as myself saw cause for hope and optimism. But de Blasio’s more recent announcement that he will only direct the NYPD to stop arresting people for pot possession – while still giving them criminal citations and continuing to arrest many people under a large number of exceptions to the new policy – will unfortunately perpetuate that racial inequity.

The arguments for outlawing cannabis usage are irrational and often fanned by those who harness that hysteria to lock up as many black and brown people as humanly possible. Dedicated advocates have been fighting back against false narratives, fear-mongering, inequities and injustices related to marijuana for years.

While I commend city officials for their intentions of combating this inequity (though New York is behind nine other states), these new policies fall short of addressing those systemic failures. In practice, the mayor’s recent announcement will address the severity of marijuana enforcement, not the disparity.

Reducing the severity of marijuana penalties is, of course, a necessary and welcome step. But that progress should not disguise the fact that the penalties still in place will disproportionately impact black and brown people in this city. Last month, the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a press conference that “the grandchild of stop-and-frisk is marijuana enforcement based on race.” With my years of working to stop abuses of stop-question-and-frisk in the City Council, and my many more years of living as a black man in New York City, I can confirm that the implicit bias that led to the egregious abuses of stop-question-and-frisk against young men of more color also led to the shocking statistic that 89 percent of those arrested for marijuana usage in the first part of 2018 were black and Hispanic. Regardless of the penalty, it is my fear and expectation that the targets of law enforcement will remain overwhelmingly people of color.

The exceptions to the policy, those who will still be arrested, will also disproportionately impact communities of color, as they are built upon the existing foundation of a failed criminal justice system. And the very existence of exceptions is contradictory to the premise that marijuana usage should not be harshly punished.

Most glaringly, elevation to arrest for those on parole or probation will result in a bias against those who have already suffered within the system, overwhelmingly people of color. This enhances, not diminishes, the perception that marijuana users are, and should be seen as, dangerous criminals. Criminal summonses have often been handed out for “quality of life” crimes such as littering and unreasonable noise. This whole area of law enforcement, like the marijuana laws, falls very disproportionately on people of color. Unlike a civil summons, these can lead to warrants, thus leading the same communities to have criminal records. We recognized this problem in city government when we passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act to redefine many such penalties. With this new policy, we retread over past mistakes.

Newly mandated reporting on the breakdown of arrests by precinct and by race will provide valuable insight, but information only brings about change when paired with action. If reporting demonstrates that these new policies are not alleviating the existing racial disparity, it will be incumbent upon the administration to pursue and enact more effective policies.

Of course, the most direct solution to eliminating racial disparity in marijuana enforcement is simple: full legalization. The current actions being taken on a city and state level are only temporary or partial remedies, and half-measure after half-measure provides only a fraction of the necessary change. It has already been reported that the governor’s commission will recommend that marijuana be legalized for recreational use.

But actually enacting this major step was never, and is not now, inevitable. Unfortunately, it is the lack of movement from Albany that causes cities like New York to use confined powers to try and address the problem piecemeal. It will still require political fortitude by elected officials to deliver what is the only way to truly end enforcement inequities, a courage that has been present in few but lacking in many who subscribe to the principle of policy by poll.

To ultimately correct the issue of racial disparity in cannabis enforcement, it is not enough to look to the future, but to correct the mistakes of the past. Unjust enforcement has led to criminal records for tens of thousands of New Yorkers, and if we are truly committed to justice, those records should be expunged. If marijuana is legalized for all communities, then all communities should be able to access its financial benefits, especially those who have been most destroyed by the illogical policies of the past.

This progressive moment on marijuana is part of a long progressive movement, and I am glad that we are moving quickly toward correcting long-legalized injustices. But we should not accept all progress as sufficient progress. We need to cut through the smokescreen and enact policies that don’t just look good but that do the most good.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.