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NYC Minority Groups: $75M Question

NEW YORK: A new report released at City Hall finds that arrests for marijuana possession cost New York City taxpayers approximately $75 million each year. The report, titled “$75 Million A Year”, documents the astronomical financial costs of marijuana possession arrests in New York City. Major findings from the report include:


  • A single arrest for marijuana possession, including all police and court expenses, costs from $1,000 to $2,000 or more, conservatively estimated.

  • In 2010, New York City spent approximately $75 million arresting and jailing people, mostly young people, simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

  • During Bloomberg’s tenure – from 2002 through 2010 – the NYPD made nearly 350,000 arrests for marijuana possession – costing taxpayers $350 million to $700 million.

  • Marijuana possession arrests also have serious human costs and consequences. They create permanent criminal records that can be easily found on the Internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards, and banks.


The new report – among the first of its kind to quantify the costs of low-level marijuana possession arrests – was written by Dr. Harry Levine and Loren Siegel, JD, and outlines the financial and human costs of marijuana arrests in New York City. The report was released at a City Hall press conference with NYC Council Member Letitia James, Council Member Jumanne Williams and Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito; Dr. Levine, Chino Hardin of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reforms and Alternatives; Howard Josepher from Exponents, a NYC-based drug treatment center; members of the Drug Policy Alliance and VOCAL-NY, and community members directly impacted by this issue. 


 “More people have been arrested for marijuana possession under Mayor Bloomberg than under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Guiliani combined,” said report co- author Dr. Harry Levine, a sociology professor at City University of New York and a national expert on marijuana arrests. “These arrests are wildly expensive, do not improve public safety, and create permanent criminal records which seriously damage the life chances of the young people targeted and jailed," Levine said.

Low-level marijuana possession offenses (NY State Penal Law 221.10) are the number one arrest in
New York City. The NYPD makes nearly a thousand arrests and jailings a week for simple marijuana possession --  one of every seven arrests, and nearly 350,000 marijuana possession arrests since Bloomberg became mayor. At $1,000 - $2,000 per arrest, this “marijuana arrest crusade” costs $75 million or more dollars a year.   

"Upwards of 75 million dollars have been used to arrest NYC residents for marijuana possession that could have legally been handled with a summons and not a criminal offense. This, as we are debating closing our senior centers. In addition, 86% of those arrests are young children of more color. I don't believe that this represents the percentage of people who take the occasional "pull."  It does however better reflect the communities abused by the current stop and frisk policies. Had this been 86% of our young children of a lighter shade, there would be uproar. I believe there still should be. All of our children are gifts to be nurtured; yet we are losing them to the system at an alarming rate. There must be a better way to deal with drugs in New York City. These arrests are simply about boosting arrest numbers and aren’t the answer to our problems," said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams.


“It is clear that the NYPD’s current policy of giving high arrest priority to marijuana enforcement is fiscally wasteful, and has a greater impact on low-income communities where the ‘war-on-drugs’ has been primarily focused,” said Council Member Letitia James. “Although African-Americans only constitute 13% of national of drug users, they make up 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those convicted of drug offenses. It is fair to say that the high priority given to marijuana enforcement directly relates to racial profiling in New York.”


"As the City asks agencies providing vital services to New Yorkers to cut back, it is unacceptable that the NYPD is using $75 million in taxpayer dollars to enforce low-level marijuana offenses," said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  "The disparities in the number of marijuana arrests is just as startling and brings attention to how our criminal justice policies disproportionately target people of color, and in particular our young people, who are too often introduced to the criminal justice system because of these low-level offenses.  This funding could surely be better utilized in this time of economic need."


Many New Yorkers don’t know that the state decriminalized marijuana possession over thirty years ago – and that law is still on the books. The Legislature passed the Marihuana Reform Act of 1977, finding that “arrests, criminal prosecutions and criminal penalties are inappropriate for people who possess small quantities of marihuana (sic) for personal use.” Possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana (about 7/8 of an ounce) was decriminalized – that is, it was made a violation; a first offense punishable by a $100 fine, not arrest and jail.  


Research finds that most people arrested for marijuana possession were not smoking in public, but simply had a small amount in a pocket and were tricked by the police to reveal it.  Once it’s in “public view,” the possession becomes a misdemeanor – criminal offense. Most of theses arrests are made this way. Over 70% of these arrests are of young people 16-29, most of them Black and Latino, even though studies show that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than blacks or Latinos.


 “The consequences of an arrest are severe, especially for young people of color who are already disproportionally arrested and incarcerated in juvenile facilities,” said Kyung Ji Rhee, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. “Young people of color are targeted, illegally searched and being put through the criminal justice system for possessing or smoking marijuana. Whatever your opinion may be on marijuana, this is no way to treat or teach young people about the choices they make.”

The new report on costs comes at a time when communities are facing deep cuts to essential social and human services in both the City and State budget. In a fact sheet released with the report, over 30 NYC based organizations identified how they think the City should spend $75 million instead of arresting young people of color for marijuana possession.

“It is beyond hypocritical for the Mayor, who once said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, to make arresting young people of color for marijuana possession his top law enforcement priority,” said Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “While cutting services for seniors, youth, housing, transportation, teachers, education, and more, the Mayor spent 75 million dollars last year to arrest over 50,000 people for marijuana possession – which isn’t even a crime under NY State law. It’s just outrageous”




In March 2011, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives released a major report about the cost of marijuana possession arrests in NYC – at $75 million a year, the costs is quite high.


DPA and IJJRA asked groups across NYC how they would like the City to spend $75 million, instead of arresting people for marijuana possession.




Responses by NYC-based Organizations


VOCAL New York
 Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, NYC should invest in preserving and strengthening safety net programs for low-income New Yorkers affected by HIV/AIDS, drug use and incarceration.
-- $34 million: Prevent people living with HIV from ending up in the shelter system by expanding eligibility for the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) to include people with asymptomatic HIV.

-- $20 million: Create employment opportunities for people who are being released from prisons and jails by launching a wage subsidy pilot project. Funded at that level, the project, which should be modeled after recommendations by the Independent Committee on Reentry and Employment, would generate an estimated 2,000 jobs at $12/hour for 24 weeks. The program would fund non-profit community based organizations to place people who are formerly

incarcerated in the areas of the state with highest rates of incarceration. CBOs funded through the program will partner with small businesses to negotiate terms of employment and make placements, and include safeguards to ensure new hires do not replace existing staff and that businesses do not cycle through employees.
-- $8 million: Protect access to housing assistance, food stamps, Medicaid and other public benefits for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS by restoring Mayor Bloomberg's elimination of one-third of HASA case worker positions.

-- $6 million: Expand access to sterile syringes to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and create low-threshold opportunities to enter drug treatment.

-- $5 million: Improve access to hepatitis C testing and treatment in low-threshold drug treatment programs, including syringe exchange programs and methadone programs. A majority of methadone patients and syringe exchange program participants have chronic hepatitis C, but most do not know their status or access medical care and treatment.

-- $2 million: Restore funding for HASA-contracted supportive housing case management that ensures formerly homeless people living with HIV/AIDS who have substance use and mental health issues remain stably housed.

 Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, I would love to see additional mobile units to be able to provide mini clinics and supportive services throughout the five borough's 24/7. In addition, spending the rest of the money on hepatitis services and affordable housing for the most marginally populations in NYC would be my dream.


Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should spend $75 million dollars to bring the Undoing Racism® workshop to the NYC Child Welfare staff, parents and community stakeholders.  Ending racial disproportionality in Child Welfare is imperative, since it is a feeder to Juvenile Justice and Criminal Justice systems.

Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession:
1. The money should be allocated for job training for adults and teenagers. Many of NYC students drop out of High School daily and do not possess the skills necessary to obtain entry level positions if we were to offer trainings they would become marketable thus reducing the rate of unemployment and over reliance on public assistance.

2 . Low income housing for folks returning home from prison and drug treatment programs.  Many of these folks are forced to go into shelters and 3/4 houses that are not conducive to recovery and life changes that are necessary to become productive members of society.

 Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should fund residences for people with mental Illness; services for NYC’s immigrants, especially Haitians; and Youth programs.  

 The money should be invested into the South Bronx community itself rather than spending millions of dollars arresting residents of the Bronx.  The City should be putting the money back into our schools, hospitals, after school programs, libraries, truly affordable housing, social service agencies – all important investments for a stronger and more hopeful future for the people that live in this community.

 Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75 million on preserving the social safety nets that makes for better, healthier families and communities: keeping housing affordable and livable, an education system that teaches all children regardless of the neighborhood they live in, training programs that place people in living wage jobs, just to name a few.

 With $75 million dollars, CCA would be able to both expand our services and provide new services that our clients need and want.
For the young people we serve: create an educational enrichment and support program that would stem the "school-to-prison" pipeline that so many of our kids find themselves in: tutoring, hands on experiential learning, arts experiences, field trips, trips to colleges, paid work apprenticeships, leadership training and opportunities;  we could build/outfit/ develop a facility that would have all these activities, PLUS state of the art computer equipment and a respite center for kids and parents who need a break from each other, without having that "break" be a remand to a detention facility. These very opportunities and resources are the ways to keep young people from abusing marijuana, a better choice than arresting them and beginning a path deeper into the criminal justice system.

For the adults we serve: expand our ATI programs so judges would have more choices than prison or jail; expand our civil restoration services so that people can get the help they need to correct the often erroneous criminal history records, and get the certificates they need to apply for jobs; expand our drug treatment programs; expand our employment programs; create an entrepreneur incubator program; build/outfit/develop a facility that would provide transitional housing for people leaving prisons and jails.

Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75 million on a public education campaign about the evidence-based risks associated with marijuana and other drug use and fund increased availability of quality psychotherapy and other treatment for those who want it. Arrests for marijuana possession, decriminalized in 1977, are unnecessarily devastating for these fellow citizens and do not address the risks associated with marijuana. Honest education and appropriate harm reduction treatment for those that need it are the most compassionate and effective approaches to reducing the harms associated with marijuana use.  

Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75 million in creating meaningful job opportunities, increasing access to preventive care, and ensuring the availability of safe and affordable housing- especially in the forgotten outer boroughs.


Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should:
- expand the paid Transitional Jobs Program to all city agencies and job types, thereby eliminating the unpaid Work Experience Program (WEP) that welfare recipients are mandated to participate in.  Transitional jobs are time-limited, publicly subsidized jobs that combine real work, skill development, and support services to aid hard-to-employ populations in their path to unsubsidized employment.  Workers in such programs earn wages, like other workers, and often have access to additionally supportive services, job mentors, job search assistance, concert education, training, and job retention services.     
- Invest in career ladder training programs that move people from low-paid, low-benefit positions (like home health aides), into higher-paid, higher benefit positions (like nurses).  Currently the Licensed Practical Nurse program is only offered to 40 people per year and the Registered Nurse program to 30.  $75 million could dramatically expand the program, providing scholarships and supports for participants, so that we can both take lead on filling the health care personnel gap in our city and can provide good paying jobs to our workforce.
- Create a centralized hiring and training center for public housing residents to get jobs on public housing capital contracts.  A federal regulation (Section 3) exists that encourages local Housing Authorities to hire from the communities within which work is being done when projects are funded through resources from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  While the regulation calls for 30% of new hires to be from the community, we'd like it to be 30% of hours worked...a much higher number of positions, since sometimes no new hires are brought on for a project.  In order to meet this goal, contractors ought to be required to meet these numbers and facilitated in doing so by the creation of a centralized training and hiring center where public housing residents could be both prepared and registered for employment on such projects.

Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75,000,000 to self-fund a New York/New York IV supportive housing initiative to provide over 4,000 individuals and families access to affordable housing with services to support recovery from chemical addiction and other health disorders.  By helping people who are currently bouncing between our streets, shelters, jails and hospitals to move into housing, we can create smart alternatives to policing that save public money while building safer, healthier communities.

 Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, NYC should give Exponents some of that money so we could open a drop-in-center and help more people who are coming out of prison or struggling with drug addiction or having difficulty staying in recovery. We could also help more people who have chronic health conditions like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis and mental health conditions like depression. Instead of arresting people for getting high, Exponents could teach them why they get high and show them alternative and better ways of how to take care of themselves. We would also create more housing for recently incarcerated and homeless people.


Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest:

-- $20 Million to provide Undoing Racism workshops in each borough to Judges, Lawyers, DA's , NYPD, and community member and leaders.$5 million in grants to local universities and agencies to research the collateral damage on Marijuana arrest in NYC.

-- $10 Million to educate teachers, parents, children and youth in Public school system from a Public Health Model.

-- $15 Million create a fund to undo the legal damage of criminal record from marijuana arrest.

-- $5 million to establish a Watchdog Agency with the "People Institute Analysis" agency to monitor the criminal justice system actions towards marijuana and other drugs.

-- 15 million to establish a paid stipend training program for 5000 youth to become leading advocates/voices against marijuana arrest and other criminal justice problems in NYC.

--$5 Million to establish a Think Tank to study, discuss, and disseminate information to the community and power brokers about the impact of marijuana laws and use.


 Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75 million in reducing teacher layoffs or increasing police officers' salaries to offset the loss in overtime pay that would come with reduced marijuana arrests.

 Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession offenses, the City should invest these funds in The Fortune Society and other members of the NYC ATI and Reentry Coalition to expand its nationally known and highly effective network of Alternative to Incarceration programs.  These programs have been critical to the State’s success in simultaneously reducing crime, reducing the prison population and saving taxpayer dollars.  The contrast between NYS and other large states is dramatic.  NYS has the lowest crime rate of the largest states and by far the lowest incarceration rate: as of January 1, 2010, California’s prison population was 169,413, Texas 171,249 people, and Florida 103,915, while New York’s prison population was 58,648.  In tough economic time, we should be investing limited criminal justice resources in what works: ATI works.

Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75 million on:
1. expanding Harm Reduction and syringe access program.
2. Increased support for people with HCV.
3. Increased supported housing such as NY NY 3

At the moment with all the budget cuts this would be a great way for them to prevent cuts to valuable services like ours.

Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, it could fund
overdose prevention. Nearly 8,000 New Yorkers have died from overdose over the last decade, and unintentional drug overdose is the third leading cause of death among New Yorkers aged 25 to 34. In
New York City, one out of every ten hospitalizations is related to drug use. Overdose is preventable, through a combination of community education, drug treatment, and distribution of naloxone (a medication that reverses opioid overdoses). Indeed, community-led overdose prevention efforts are starting to pay off: overdose deaths have started to decline since peaking in 2006. But much more could be done, if we directed resources away from unproductive arrests and towards real prevention of real drug-related harms.

Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, these funds should be invested in re-entry services.

Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should make a serious investment in alternatives to incarceration and reentry programs. With a fraction of $75 million, ATI and reentry programs are an integral component of the NYC criminal justice system and have helped make the city safer, reduced recidivism, and saved taxpayer money. The results have been impressive: people involved in the criminal justice system who went through one of the City supported programs had over an 80 percent chance of staying out of the system. With more resources, the results can be even more dramatic.

Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75 million on after school programs, drug education and prevention programs, and drug treatment programs.   


With $75 million, we would definitely invest in programs that reach as many people/families as possible, including: 

1. JobDevelopmentCenter

2. Job Training

3 .Half-Way Housing

4. Training Institute for Providers of Social Services, Physicians, etc on how to work with  Substance Users
5. Educational Programs for Youth
6. Alternative to Incarceration Agencies


Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, NYC should invest $75 million in preventing cuts to NYC's public schools and providing critically needed legal services and adult literacy programs in the city's immigrant communities.


Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, $75 million could:

-- House the homeless.

-- Feed the hungry, and fund a sustained effort to bring healthful, affordable, regionally grown foods to low-income communities.

--Pay for textbooks and teachers and after-school programs.

-- Pay the court fees of many wrongly charged “indigent” defendants.  No more civil judgments.

-- Fund Heroin Assisted Treatment trials.

-- Build a community clinic providing quality healthcare, treatment and social services and house a safe injection facility to low-income drug users and street-based sex workers

-- Provide the start-up money for a cooperative entrepreneurial venture run by low-income drug users and sex workers.

-- Fund a community center for people who use drugs and engage in sex work that provides an opportunity to pursue art, dance, spiritual practices that are culturally relevant and other activities that provide meaning, a sense of belonging, improved quality of life and the social connectedness that helps people stabilize their lives.

Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75 million toward alleviating current budget cuts, specifically on school systems. In addition, the NYPD needs to re-direct the focus of their arrests toward crimes that pose a serious threat to the safety of our citizens, youth and families.



Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, Positive Health Project would open a harm reduction outpatient drug treatment program (be the bridge between syringe exchange programs and drug treatment) and seed a foundation dedicated to funding syringe exchange programs in NYC (the city ought to invest more in helping us save lives; and funding harm reduction activities is not a high priority in philanthropy).


Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75 million on housing options that are neither racist nor homophobic, healthcare programs that don’t leave a person out because they are too poor or too queer, employment programs that offer a living wage and actively hire lesbians, gay men, transgender and bisexual people.  Queers for Economic Justice exists because LGBTQ people are a part of the communities who this Mayor targets or leaves behind. Put the money where it’s most needed, building programs in
New York that serve and support communities of color, of which we are a part.


Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should use the 75 million of dollars to open up after school and weekend centers to teach the history of this country through the Undoing Racism Workshop of the People's Institute of Survival and Beyond, and assist young people in building leadership for a more equitable NYC which includes youth at every level of decision making.


Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75 million to:

1. Invest in the re-building of a strong working/middle class among the poor and formerly incarcerated.  How?  Bring back the Trades with free, no-cost training, i.e., carpentry, plumbing, electricians, bakers, brick layers, ironworks; nursing and health-affiliated one and two year programs; Green Jobs.
2. Bring internet/WiFi access to the poor and formerly incarcerated.  

3. Pay down/eliminate the parking/driving violations of the poor and formerly incarcerated.


Currently NYC is willing to provide shelter beds for only about 10% of street homeless young adults, according to the most recent homeless youth count sponsored by city council.  Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, we suggest investing in an adequate youth shelter system including emergency, transitional and permanent supportive housing for youth who currently live on the streets, in the subway, and in jail.


Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, the City should invest $75 million on higher education scholarships.


Instead of spending $75 million to arrest people for marijuana possession, WHCP would fund HIV prevention, syringe exchange, preventative medical care and mental health care for homeless, affordable housing for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, alternatives to incarceration programs for youth, and post-incarceration programs for ex-offenders including job training and placement.


STORY TAGS: Black News, African American News, Minority News, Civil Rights News, Discrimination, Racism, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality, Afro American News

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