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More NYPD Arrests for Low-Level Marijuana Possession

NYPD arrests for minor drug crimes such as marijuana possession in 2011 rose for the seventh straight year to the highest level in over a decade, costing the city of New York about $75 million. Over 50,000 people were arrested for low-level marijuana possession offenses last year, more than double the number arrested in 2005.

By comparison, fewer total people were arrested for the same offenses during a 20-year span beginning in 1978.

While arrest numbers have historically fluctuated, the numbers are surprising because a September 2011 police order prohibited officers from making marijuana possession arrests unless the marijuana was in public view. Although there was 13 percent drop in arrests following the order, it did not offset the rapid increase in arrests during the first half of the year.

Some legal experts say that the police are using illegal stop-and-frisk tactics to make arrests for marijuana possession. According to these claims, the police regularly force or deceive possessors to pull the drug out of their pockets, in some cases pulling it out themselves.

With the marijuana then in "public view," officers can make arrests without violating the 2011 police order. However, legal experts say that the drug isn't in public view for purposes of an arrest if it was put there involuntarily during an illegal search. If true, about 40 percent of all 2011 marijuana arrests may have been illegal.

Police say the arrests help reduce violent crime, but some researchers disagree. The arrests also disproportionately impact young minorities. Nearly 90 percent of those arrested were black or Latino, despite studies showing that most marijuana users are young whites.

Source: The New York Times,"The Trouble With Marijuana Arrests," Sept. 26, 2011.

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