Arrests for cannabis possession may be on the decline in New York City, but it certainly hasn't stopped. Still, nearly 90% of the people who are arrested on small-time cannabis charges are either Black or Hispanic.
In 2014 NYC mayor Bill de Blasio said in most cases, minor marijuana offenders would be given summonses instead of being arrested, and he has followed through on this promise. Since 2014, 17 500 people have been arrested on average per year in the city. That's a pretty significant drop from the nearly 26,000 people arrested in 2014, and is much lower than the peak of 50,000 people per year when Michael R. Bloomberg was mayor.
Despite this drop, the racial proportions of arrests have stayed essentially the same, with around 87% of people arrested being Black or Hispanic. Given that the rates of cannabis use among both groups is very similar, the the disproportionate amount of minorities arrested is unsettling.
The cause, it seems, is the differing ways in which majority Black and majority white neighborhoods are policed, says Scott Levy, a special counsel to the criminal defense practice at the Bronx Defenders.
"What you have is people smoking weed in the same places in any neighborhood in the city," Levy told the New York Times. "It’s just those neighborhoods are patrolled very, very differently. And the people in those neighborhoods are seen very differently by the police."
Police insist this is because black neighborhoods generate more marijuana complaints and 911 calls in general. Combine this with the practice of rail profiling and police presence in these communities becomes much higher than others. But that's not the whole story. It's not that people smoke more weed in these areas, but that the people who live there are less likely to have responsive, responsible landlords to call upon - and instead have to turn to the police with their issues.
Yet even in majority white neighborhoods, Blacks and Hispancis make up the bulk of arrests. Take, for instance, he New York's Upper West Side, where only around 15% of the population is black. Here, 70% of people charged with cannabis offences are Black. It seems no matter where you go the racial disparity continues.