On average last year, someone was arrested every 10 minutes in New York City for possessing a few pinches of marijuana — less than 25 grams — and no other crime, says New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer. More arrests, 50,383, were made in 2010 on this charge than on any other, and arrests are being made at an even faster pace this year. “They're clogging the courts and ruining people's lives, in terms of potential collateral consequences for housing, employment, immigration,” said Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society, which represented 30,000 people in minor marijuana cases last year.
The administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that by arresting more than 350,000 people for having small amounts of marijuana since 2002, the police have helped drive down serious crime — and that the consequences for the people locked up have been minimal. Nearly 90 percent of those arrested are black or Latino, although pot use by young white people is rampant in affluent quarters of the city. Bloomberg aides say few of those arrested end up with criminal convictions because most cases are dismissed and sealed after one year. In effect, the arrest process itself — which can stretch for 24 hours or more, under squalid conditions in holding pens — is the extent of the punishment. Yet there are other, hidden consequences, say lawyers and advocates who work with those arrested. People regularly lose jobs for missing work as they wait to see a judge or because their employers do not want anyone connected with even minor drug offenses on the payroll.