The racial disparity in cannabis arrests continues to gain attention, as seen in a piece in Sunday's New York Times, with a headline as telling as it is chilling: "Surest Way to Face Marijuana Charges in New York: Be Black or Hispanic." The investigation looks at cannabis-related arrests, often for simple possession or public smoking, of New York City's Black and Hispanic people, compared to arrests made in neighborhoods with different racial breakdowns. These arrests were generated by callers to 911 or 311 (NYC's non-emergency complaint line and hub for access to city services) complaining about cannabis use.
In one case, the NYT examined Brooklyn's Canarsie precinct, which is 85 percent Black, to the Greenpoint precinct, which is 4 percent Black. Each precinct received approximately the same number of calls from residents regarding complaints about cannabis. And yet the arrest rate in Canarsie was four times that of Greenpoint.
For the five boroughs as a whole, 87 percent of all offenses related to cannabis impacted Blacks and Hispanics. That's a staggering number. Read the NYT's full investigation here.
Meanwhile, this morning, the Times also reported that the district attorneys for Manhattan and Brooklyn announced that they're considering stopping the prosecution of low-level cannabis offenses, including those against people who smoke outside without creating a public nuisance. That's a groundbreaking move, which, if implemented, would result in a mere 100 to 200 being being prosecuted out of the 5,000 arrested last year on low-level cannabis charges. (In Manhattan, Blacks are arrested at a rate of 15 times that of whites for all crimes combined, so this is a great start.) The walls of racism around cannabis use aren't tumbling to the ground, even in a so-called liberal stronghold like New York, but the cracks are beginning to show.