Police arrest 140 people every day in New York City for possessing small amounts of marijuana, says WNYC Radio in a two-part series. It’s by far the most common misdemeanor charge in the city, and thousands of arrests take place when police stop-and-frisk young men in the poorest neighborhoods. While police say these stop-and-frisks are a way to find guns, what they find more often is a bag of marijuana. Some officers may be violating constitutional rights in pot arrests.
Current and former cops, defense lawyers and more than a dozen men arrested for the lowest-level marijuana possession say illegal searches take place during stop-and-frisks–street encounters carried out overwhelmingly on blacks and Latinos. Antonio Rivera, 25, said he is stopped by police up to five times a month. In January, he said he was stopped and frisked, then arrested for marijuana possession. Critics say his case is an example of how officers may be conducting illegal searches when making marijuana arrests. Rivera said his marijuana was in his pants and police pulled it out of his clothes after searching him without his consent. Robin Steinberg of Bronx Defenders handles thousands of marijuana arrests a year. She said, in most of these cases, police either ordered the person to empty pockets or searched pockets themselves – that’s how the drugs get into “public view,” she said. “So the police officer in fact is creating a type of criminality.”