Drug Policy Alliance recently published new data regarding arrests for cannabis in New York City. For activists and reformers battling the injustices of the drug war in the city, their is good news to be found.
Cannabis arrests have sharply declined over the past four years, from a 2011 high of 51,000 to 26,386 in 2014 and just 16,590 last year, which is the lowest number of cannabis related arrests in 20 years.
A closer look shows we're not changing fast enough
Of course, 16,590 arrests still means 45 people per day forced through the justice system for owning an herb. For some of them, it may even be medicine. A cannabis arrest can have far reaching effects on some individuals, including threatening their livelihood, and family relationships.
Perhaps the most damning thing Drug Policy Alliance found in the data is that disproportionate arrests of blacks and latinos continue, despite evidence that whites are more likely to use cannabis. Leaving cannabis possession up to individual officers to choose whether to prosecute too easily opens the door to inequality and racism in the justice system.
The drug war in America has failed. The good news is that reform is happening, especially in how cannabis users are treated by the justice system. Five states have legalized cannabis use, 23 have medical marijuana, and 2016 looks like it could be a positive year for shifting policy. But it's not enough to celebrate these small victories, the time to stop making criminals of plant owners and to end inequality in the justice system is now.