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by Peter Moskos

August 25, 2009

Stop the war on pot smokers

An op-ed by Tony Newman in the New York Daily News.
While New York has a reputation as a tolerant and open-minded city and New York State effectively decriminalized simple possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana more than 30 years ago, Gotham has made so many pot arrests that it now has the unfortunate distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world.
Prior to 1997, the lowest-level marijuana arrests were 1% of all arrests in the city. Since 1997, marijuana arrests have averaged 10% of all arrests in the city.

If possession of marijuana is supposed to be decriminalized in New York, how does this happen? Often because, in the course of interacting with the police, individuals may be asked to empty their pockets, which results in the pot being "open to public view" - which is, technically, a crime.

New York City's marijuana arrests show stark racial disparities. In 2008, 87% of those charged with pot possession were black or Latino. These groups represent only about half of the city's population, and U.S. government surveys consistently find that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than blacks and Latinos. Yet blacks and Latinos are arrested for pot at much higher rates, in part because officers make stop-and-frisks disproportionately in black, Latino and low-income neighborhoods.
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