The New York Civil Liberties Union says the New York City police department arrested 350,000 people for misdemeanor marijuana possession over the past decade — a tenfold increase achieved by systematically targeting young black and Hispanic men and stopping them without cause, reports Newsday. The police department responded that the report misleads the public “with absurdly inflated numbers and false claims about bias.”For example, between 2003 and 2006, overall marijuana arrests dipped by 25 percent compared with the previous four-year period, “a point missing from the report,” said Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne.
The report was written by Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College, and lawyer Deborah Patterson Small. The report’s authors and other critics say police are ignoring the state’s 1977 decriminalization of possession of “personal use” marijuana. Legislation made possession of up to 11/4 ounces of marijuana a violation — much like a traffic infraction — punishable by a fine. The NYPD said it does not engage in racial profiling. Many high schoolers are being harassed, said Robin Steinberg of Bronx Defenders, which provides free legal representation. “The real issue here is that massive numbers of police officers are being deployed in communities of color — poor communities of color — and are staying outside schools waiting for kids to walk home, to go to the bodega, to go to their friend’s houses, and searching them,” she said.