New York City, one of the most aggressive prosecutors of marijuana offenses in the US, is rethinking the practice, with an eye to avoid stigmatizing young black and Latino men.
The nickel bag he possessed was about the amount of marijuana needed for one cigarette-size joint. And according to New York state law, he could carry up to 30 of these – or less than 25 grams – without criminal penalties, as long as they weren’t burning or “in open view.”
Still, New York is the most aggressive city in the most aggressive state in the US when it comes to marijuana arrests, and there were nearly 29,000 arrests like this in the city in 2013. And the local police tactic of stop-and-frisk has yielded hundreds of thousands of such low-level possession arrests over the past decade, as out-of-view nickle and dime bags – or even an overstuffed sandwich bag – become exposed during the course of a legal search.
“I missed three days of work, so I missed paid days,” he says. “I was still able to keep my job, but it didn’t look good for me moving forward cuz now I got this little stain of getting arrested.” Carrasquillo is currently a civil rights organizer with VOCAL NY, an advocacy group for drug law reform.
But across the country, this low-level stain is mostly borne by young black and Latino men in urban areas, even as their white counterparts use the drug more frequently. Nationwide, blacks are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for low-level possession, even though more young white people aged 18 to 25 – the age group most often arrested – consistently report using the drug at a higher rate than their black and Latin counterparts, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2001-10.
This includes New York, where last year some 86 percent of its marijuana arrests were of men like Carrasquillo. So far this year, such arrests continue at a similar pace, with about 7,000 marijuana busts in the first quarter, according to police statistics.