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A Red Herring: Marijuana Arrestees Do Not Become Violent Felons

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2012
39 pages
This study examined the cost-effectiveness and human rights violations associated with New York City's high arrest rate for the misdemeanor of possessing, smoking, or otherwise displaying marijuana use in a public place.
Between 1996 and 2011, New York City police made 586,320 arrests for this misdemeanor, including a total of approximately 100,000 in the 2 years of 2010 and 2011. Most of the arrests have occurred in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Arrestees are overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic. In explaining the rationale for the expense of the concentrated enforcement and case processing of this misdemeanor, the mayor and the police have stated only that it improves public safety. There is no indication, however, that this practice significantly improves public safety, since the large majority of those arrested for this misdemeanor do not subsequently engage in violent crime. Through mid-2011, this study monitored the criminal records of nearly 30,000 people without prior criminal convictions who were arrested in 2003 and 2004 for marijuana possession; only 3.1 percent of them were subsequently convicted of one violent felony offense during the research period. Absent any persuasive rationale for giving priority to such arrests, this report argues that the consequences for the arrestees besides punitive sentencing include the disadvantages of an arrest record in seeking employment, access to public housing, child custody, and immigration status. In addition, there have been allegations that the police have conducted marijuana-possession arrests in an unlawful and arbitrary manner by stopping and frisking persons without reasonable grounds for doing so. Recommendations for changing police priorities in their resource allocations are directed to New York City elected and law enforcement officials. Details are provided on the research design. 5 tables, 4 figures, and appended discussion of methodological issues