Marijuana Busts Cost City $75 Million A Year, Report Says (Updated with Police Comment)


The city spends $75 million a year on the NYPD’s campaign of arresting people on low level marijuana possession charges, a new report says.

The Drug Policy Alliance report says police and court expenses total up to $2,000 per arrest. Between 2002 and 2010, police made 350,000 marijuana possession arrests, costing the city $350 million to $700 million.

City Councilman Jumaane Williams says the campaign unfairly targets young black and Hispanic residents. He says 86 percent of those arrested were from one of those two groups. Councilmember Letitia James described the campaign as “wasteful.”

The authors of the report pointed out that a 34-year-old state law decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession, making it a violation publishable by a summons rather than arrest and jail.

But, they argue, the arrests are good for police officers because they are “relatively safe and easy, provide training for rookie cops, allow overtime pay,” and help officers hit quotas. The report also draws a correlation between the number of pot arrests and the huge increase in stop and frisks. In other words, a lot of those arrests emanated from stop and frisks.

(Update) Deputy Inspector Kim Royster, a police spokeswoman, described the report as “biased and incomplete.” “It ignored both the very high incidents of violent crime that plagued the city when low level offenses were enforced far less vigorously, and the steep decrease in violent crime that occurred when less serious offenses, like marijuana, were consistently addressed,” she said.

She pointed out that between 1981 and 1995, there were 9.5 million index crimes, and 26,000 murder victims. Between 1996-2010, the number of index crimes dropped to 3.8 million, and the number of homicide victims dropped to 9,300.