The New York Times editorializes that the city’s police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, was “too little, too late” with his memo telling officers not to arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana unless it is in plain view. Last year, more than 50,000 people were arrested for such pot offenses, most of the minorities. The newspaper believes that the U.S. Justice Department and state legislators should investigate the legality of hundreds of thousands of arrests since the mid-1990s.
Since 1996, the city has taken more than 536,000 people into custody for the lowest-level marijuana charge, says Harry Levine of Queens College. He believes that a significant majority of those arrested last year had never been convicted of any crime. Young African-Americans and Hispanics, who are disproportionately singled-out in street stops, make up a high percentage of people arrested for marijuana possession, despite federal data showing that whites are more likely to consume marijuana. This policing practice has damaged young lives and deserves deeper scrutiny by federal and state monitors, says the Times.