Bill de Blasio called the high number of marijuana arrests in New York City ridiculous when running for mayor, concluding, “This policy is unjust and wrong.” After being elected, the mayor took a slightly different approach: he did nothing.
An October report from the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Arrest Research Project, however, provided the pushneeded. Pressured to live up to his campaign promise, de Blasio appears to be taking action.
The New York Post reported last week that de Blasio’s administration planned to stop doing “buy-and-busts.” Under the drug enforcement program, undercover police solicit marijuana from street dealers and use the leverage of a drug charge to look for other possible crimes. According to the report, 86% of arrests for marijuana possession in the city in the first eight months of 2014 were black or Latino.
“This is all about arresting minorities, and this is just one way to arrest less minorities,’’ A source told the Post.
NYC Narcotics Chief Brian McCarthy told the heads of each borough’s narcotics units that they are to shift priority away from marijuana to other drugs.
“There’s a pill and heroin problem in the city, and we have to focus on that.” McCarthy said.
Sources explained to the Post that marijuana arrests provide a gateway to probable cause. After a suspect is arrested for marijuana, they can be searched for weapons and other illegal substances. It’s also handy for the police because once they are booked, suspects’ fingerprints and photos go into files for future investigation.
Reverend Al Sharpton praised the move on Thursday after hearing about it through the media.
“It’s the kind of reform people like me wanted to see,” Sharpton told the Post. “This is a step in the right direction.”
Other leaders responded less favorably to the move. Sergeants Benevolent Association president Ed Mullins predicted that if marijuana arrests are discarded, civilized society will be next.
“It’s counterproductive to the broken-windows theory,” Mullins said. “If we’re not making marijuana arrests, then we may not pop someone who has a warrant on them or who committed felony crimes.’’
The de Blasio administration has not confirmed that they are ending the buy-and-bust program, but admits it is working on changing marijuana policy.