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Until recently, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly have insisted that arresting people for low-level marijuana offenses is a way to reduce violent crime in the city.
The idea that weed somehow turns people into violent criminals, of course, is a load of crap — as proven by a study released today.
Human Rights Watch released the findings of its study on whether those who are arrested for marijuana possession go on to commit violent crimes — which, believe it or not, they don’t. Shocking, we know.
The study, titled “A Red Herring: Marijuana Arrestees Do Not Become Violent Felons,” found there is no evidence to support the idea that locking up low-level marijuana offenders does anything to reduce violent crime.
HRW used data from the New York Department of Criminal Justice
Services to track the
criminal records of nearly 30,000 people who had no prior convictions
when they were arrested for marijuana possession in public view in 2003
and 2004. The study tracked any criminal activity for those in the survey group until mid-2011.
Of those roughly 30,000 people in the group who were arrested for low-level marijuana offenses, more than 90-percent had no felony convictions as of 2011. Only 3.1-percent were convicted of one violent felony offense. An additional 0.4 percent had two or more violent felony convictions.
“The New York City police sweep large numbers of people into the the city’s criminal justice system – particularly young people of color – who do not go on to become dangerous felons,” the group concludes. “These findings are consistent with and add to research by Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College, City University of New York, which shows that the preponderance of marijuana arrestees do not have prior criminal convictions.”
A misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction, and even an arrest that’s not followed by a conviction, can severely screw someone in terms of their opportunities for employment, housing, and loans.
As Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has said, “The human cost to each one of these people and their families is serious and it is real.”
Civil rights groups say that low-level marijuana arrests unfairly target minorities — of the roughly 50,000 people arrested each year in New York for low-level marijuana offenses, 87 percent are black or Hispanic. According to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, 94 percent of all arrests for small amounts of marijuana (less than 25 grams) in New York happen in New York City.
“As long as they keep arresting people, and making them pay such a heavy price for possessing marijuana in public view, New York City officials owe the public an explanation for how those arrests contribute to public safety, ” says Issa Kohler-Hausmann, co-author of the report. “If these arrests have crime control benefits that outweigh the costs, public officials have yet to identify them.”
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, low-level marijuana arrests costs New York City $75 million a year — all while clogging up the court system.
See HRW’s full report here.