Just a few years ago New York City was the cannabis arrest capital of the world. Over a 20-year period the NYPD made almost 700,000 marijuana arrests, the vast majority of which involved minority suspects despite the fact that marijuana use is roughly level when broken down by race.
After activists launched an extended awareness campaign intended to get the attention of the city government, several reforms were enacted. This has led to a precipitous drop in arrests for low-level possession from almost 51,000 in 2011 to fewer than 17,000 in 2015, a reduction of some two-thirds.
Almost 17,000 arrests for marijuana possession is still quite a lot, and still above where levels were in the 1990s. But the downward trend is promising, as is the fact that medical marijuana is now a presence within the city.
Giving people criminal records because they have some weed on them is not only wasteful, it’s just plain wrong. Someone who possesses cannabis has not infringed on the rights of anyone else. They should not be locked up and have their lives ruined.
Many of the arrests have come from the NYPD’s adoption of the “Broken Windows Theory,” the theory that prosecuting people for smaller crimes will somehow prevent bigger crimes in the future by fostering an atmosphere of “law and order.” Under this theory, busting young people for small amounts of weed will start them on the path of the straight and narrow when all it really does is crowd them in jail with harder criminals and prevent them from employment and educational opportunities in the future. These are not circumstances likely to keep someone on the right path.
Things are changing all across the United States, and momentum is on the side of cannabis activists and consumers. On we march, ever forward.