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Criminol Public Policy. 2007;6(1):131-164.

THE RACE/ETHNICITY DISPARITY IN MISDEMEANOR MARIJUANA ARRESTS IN NEW YORK CITY.

Abstract

RESEARCH SUMMARY:

This article examines the growth in marijuana misdemeanor arrests in New York City (NYC) from 1980 to 2003 and its differential impact on blacks and Hispanics. Since 1980, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) expanded its use of arrest and detention for minor offenses under its quality-of-life (QOL) policing initiative. Arrest data indicate that during the 1990s the primary focus of QOL policing became smoking marijuana in public view (MPV). By 2000, MPV had become the most common misdemeanor arrest, accounting for 15% of all NYC adult arrests and rivaling controlled substance arrests as the primary focus of drug abuse control. Of note, most MPV arrestees have been black or Hispanic. Furthermore, black and Hispanic MPV arrestees have been more likely to be detained prior to arraignment, convicted, and sentenced to jail than their white counterparts.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS:

In light of the disparities, we recommend that the NYPD consider scaling back on MPV enforcement and reducing the harshness of treatment by routinely issuing Desk Appearance Tickets when the person is not wanted on other charges, so that most MPV arrestees would not be detained. Furthermore, we recommend that legislators should consider making smoking marijuana in public a violation and not a misdemeanor. Lastly, we suggest ways that NYC could monitor the effectiveness of these policy modifications to assure that the city continues to meet its goals for order maintenance.

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