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Marijuana Arrests in New York City Drop Significantly After Legalization

Is the city also living up to its racial justice promises?

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This story originally appeared on Cannabis.net

Cannabis-related arrests have dwindled to less than 90% in New York. During the second quarter of 2021, New York City's police department recorded only eight cannabis-related arrests. Six of which were for illegal possession of cannabis and the other two for illegal sales.

The current legislation states that adults over 21 now have the right to possess adult-use cannabis of not more than three ounces. It also permits the sale of cannabis, however, this has been paused due to the delay in setting up the state's cannabis regulatory council.

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Cannabis-related arrests post-legalization

Cannabis legislation was approved in March 2021 and signed into law by the former governor, Andrew Cuomo.

The state saw a gradual decrease in the number of cannabis-related arrests it made daily.

The arrests that have been carried out post-legislation have been filed under a fairly new legal category. The new section was formulated by the approved law and it includes charges like unlawful possession, as well as illegal sales.

The approved law only permits the possession of fewer than three ounces of cannabis for each legal adult citizen, the same way it allows only licensed cannabis businesses to operate as cannabis suppliers and retailers within the state.

In 2019, Cuomo signed a measure to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. Law enforcement agents worked with this bill from July 2019 to the moment the recreational bill was approved. The 2019 bill states that anyone found holding up to two ounces of adult-use weed was to be fined and not arrested. Residents were fined up to $200.

According to the police department records, 163 arrests were made in the Big Apple from January till the bill was approved in March. The police arrested people for holding over the decriminalization limit.

Cannabis-related court summons has also trickled down to single digits. Before the measure was approved Late-March, the city had around 3,700 criminal court summonses. These warrants are usually issued when residents try to work around paying their fines. Offenders must always respond to a court summons.

A person refusing to pay for a cannabis possession ticket will get in more trouble if they also fail to regard their court summons, as courts have the right to issue arrest warrants to get the offender in court.

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Reasons for the quick decline of cannabis-related arrests

Compared to other states with pro-cannabis laws, New York had the sharpest decline in arrests. The plunging of cases, relating to cannabis possession, use and sales, in New York is by the greatest and fastest to be recorded in any adult-use approved state.

The fact that New York is faring much better than other states in this regard has been attributed to the language used in the measure which permits the public use of the drugs, and the effectiveness of the state in implementing the law as soon as they could have.

The lawmakers considered all factors when drafting the bill and the other actors— the police department, district attorney, and even the court— follow due cause whenever they have to implement the new legislation.

The major provision in the approved recreational law states that cigarette smoking spaces can now serve as a safe space for the public consumption of cannabis. Any space where cigarettes are allowed, cannabis is also permitted. This has been helping in the gradual reduction of the stigma attached to cannabis users.

Other states' recreational legalization laws make no room for this. In a way, their stance does little to quell the stigmatization of cannabis users. So, their police force treats cannabis smokers caught in such areas as offenders.

The moment Cuomo assented to the bill, marijuana became decriminalized throughout the state. People could no longer be arrested unless they held over three ounces of cannabis.

The New York City government learned from the way other states handled their cannabis legislation. For example, New Jersey. New Jersey legalized cannabis in November 2020, however, implementation in the approved law was delayed for several months pending the time the Lawmakers could reach an agreement with the voters. This delay caused law enforcement forces to keep making wide-scale arrests irrespective of the quantity of cannabis found on a resident.

Some days after the recreational legalization law was approved, all district attorneys in New York went through all the cannabis cases and records in the system, offenders with charges or previous records which were now considered legal under the new measure, had their cases dismissed. Previous records were also expunged automatically.

RELATED: Will New York's New Governor Kathy Hochul Get Legal Cannabis Moving?

Is New York living up to its racial justice promises?

Before cannabis was decriminalized in New York, at least 85% of the people arrested annually for cannabis-related offenses were people of color. The black and Latinx experienced the worst of it.

The war on drugs in New York City, and even the other states in the U.S discriminated against people of color and left their communities at a disadvantage. As it targeted their men. Almost 90% of the total arrests were young men in their early thirties or under.

People got arrested for absurd charges. Law enforcement forces wielded so much power and could choose to arrest anyone just because they suspected them of selling pot. The police went after people of color, New York residents or not.

Now, with the lowered rates of arrests and the automatic expungement of charges permitted under the approved laws, it might be safe to state that New York is finally living up to its racial justice promises.

Although the new law may still have a negative impact on black and Latinx communities, it is better than the previous numbers. Biased law enforcement agents will have to scrutinize suspects over a longer period before they can make arrests.

Young people of color can no longer be arrested for insignificant possession.

Bottom line

The tremendous drop in arrests and summonses in New York is a great achievement for the government. The state has the largest population in any city in the country with over 8 million residents. Its effective implementation of the new law is a blueprint for other states to learn from.