Marijuana in New York and Police Deception

May 5, 2008

Thirty years ago the State of New York decided it would quit jailing people for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Those caught with small amounts, instead of being arrested, jailed, and prosecuted for a crime, would be issued a summons and face the same maximum as those accused of improper use of a bicycle: a $100 fine

So much for the law. How about law enforcement? The police in New York City have had other ideas. There are two exceptions to New York law in the treatment of marijuana with a small fine: Anyone caught with “burning” marijuana or with marijuana “open to public view” faces a misdemeanor criminal charge.

Low level marijuana arrests in New York City remain very high. This is while all crime in the city has declined by about sixty percent in the last three decades. Paul Brown, the New York City Police Department’s chief spokesman, states “Attention to marijuana and lower-level crime in general has helped drive crime down.” The opposite view is taken by Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College. He says the only research on the issue suggests that marijuana arrests have played little role in reducing the general crime rate.

A study just released shows a strong racial bent to these marijuana police arrests between 1998 and 2007. In that period 374,900 people were arrested with the most serious crime being misdemeanor possession of marijuana. That is eight times the number of arrests on those same charges in the period between 1988 and 1997, when 45,300 people were arrested. Also found in the study of the 1998 to 2007 period: 90 per cent of those arrested were men, and 83 percent were black or Latino. Whites, who are 35 percent of the City’s population, were only 15 percent of those charged, even though federal surveys show that whites are more likely than blacks or Latinos to use marijuana.

How do the police arrest 374,900 for marijuana possession when it must be found either “burning” or ‘open to public view?”. A 25-year old white man who appeared last week in Manhattan Criminal Court explained how he had come to be charged with possession of marijuana. He had come out of a building when an unmarked car came right up to him. An officer got out and told him to “give him the weed.” The police officer said: “Give me the weed now and I will give you a summons, or we can search your vehicle and can take you in.” The 25- year-old took the offer. He opened the console of his vehicle and handed the marijuana to the police officers – making it “open to public view”.

This deception is legal. But does this make you wonder about police officers who every day, as a matter of professional routine, tells lies so they can “catch criminals”? Since they explain their routine lying as justified by the higher purpose of stopping crime, would not the same rationale justify their lying when they testify in court while under oath? When their professional success depends so heavily on uttering lies, when so much of their lives is devoted to uttering falsehoods, can they really resist the temptation to tell a lie here or there or everywhere in court when the success of their cases might depend on it, when no one knows they are lying but they themselves (and the criminal on trial, of course, whom no one will believe)?

This is an example of how much the “deck is stacked” against anyone accused, even those who are innocent of a crime. That’s why anyone who is charged with possession or any other crime, should take the situation very seriously and seek out the best criminal defense possible. I urge anyone in that position to visit my site at to learn how to find the best lawyer for your case.