When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new, seemingly lenient city policy for marijuana possession in 2014, weed-inclined citizens likely assumed greener pastures ahead for the future of legalization. However, according to a new report from the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), that’s pretty damn far from the truth. Under the new policy, possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana would, supposedly, no longer lead to an arrest. But the PROP report shows a remarkably different pattern.
The New York City Police Department busted 4,225 people for possession between January and March of this year, according to state data cited by High Times. Compared to the 2,960 people arrested during the same period in 2015, that’s a noticeable—and rather baffling—leap. The main problem, it seems, is that the heavily publicized change in city policy was exactly that: a policy, not law.
Just last month, New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton appeared on the radio show Cat’s Round Table. During the interview, Bratton theorized that the majority of violence in New York City could be attributed to marijuana. “Most of the violence we see is involving marijuana,” Bratton said. “I have to scratch my head as we are seeing many states wanting to legalize marijuana and more liberalization of policies.”
Bratton, of course, played a crucial role in helping de Blasio sell the policy to both citizens and city officials. As noted by High Times‘ Bill Weinberg, de Blasio appealed to liberal voters while Bratton championed the state’s “public view” law:
De Blasio played to liberals, noting that that a cannabis arrest “hurts [people’s] chances to get a good job, it hurts their chances to get housing, it hurts their chances to qualify to get a student loan.” He also charged that the Black and Latino communities “have been disproportionately affected.” But, as the Daily News recalls, Bratton played the Bad Cop. Those caught with under 25 grams would still receive summonses, he emphasized—and those smoking in public would still be arrested.
The central conflict in de Blasio’s city policy, and in similar policies around the country, is that the normalization of marijuana use is consistently at odds with both federal and, as seen in New York, state laws. Furthermore, PROP’s report reveals that people of color were unfairly targeted.
“It is irrational to punish adults for simply possessing small amounts of a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol,” Mason Tvert, Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Complex. “It is a huge waste of law enforcement officials’ time and resources, which would be better spent addressing serious crimes.” According to Tvert, the only path to fairness involves outright legalization: “It’s time for New York to change its ridiculous marijuana possession laws once and for all.”
Legalization advocates are hoping for the best come July, at which point the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is expected to announce their decision on rescheduling marijuana so that it’s no longer hanging out in Schedule I purgatory with heroin. Though not much is known about the DEA’s plans for a possible rescheduling, a Food and Drug Administration-hosted conference on Canada’s marijuana regulation infrastructure later this month could be a sign of good news to come.