Open Phones: Have You Been Arrested for Marijuana Possession?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Recently released figures by the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services that show a sharp increase in the numbers of arrests for marijuana possession. Have you been arrested for possessing marijuana, or know others who have? Tell us about your experience. Plus, Eugene O'Donnell, professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, former NYPD officer, and former prosecuter, discusses the current marijuana laws.

Call in at 10:40 212.433.WNYC or post your story in the comments page here.


Eugene O'Donnell

Comments [42]

Jodi Jezz from Houston, TX

I think it should be decriminalized, there is too many people that go to jail for petty minor possession of marijuana charges. It effects peoples future with jobs and education. Something so petty should be looked at as a traffic citation not a criminal offense. If one is trafficking marijuana then that should be looked at as a criminal offense.

Sep. 29 2011 05:19 PM
livinthedream from nyc

I am young black man from a rough part of Queens notorious for drugs and crime. I now live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I smoke inside the comforts of my home. A few times I've smoked in Riverside Park which I look in retrospect as being quite stupid. The problem in the hood is cops target young black men like prey. I have never been pulled over or been asked to be searched in Manhattan. But in my old neighborhood its like playing a game trying to duck from the police so you won't be harassed. People in the hood don't just walk around smoking weed. Like many others have said on the forum... its a matter delivery. Most people in the hood have someone in the area who sells and then go meets up OR has it brought to them. Out here I would have to go to Harlem for weed. In the old hood I can go up the block. The number of drug dealers in the hood is staggering because of the lack of employment and education. Which is the reason why the police target low income areas. The probability of getting arrested is greater in the hood. I am speaking from a young educated black man's perspective who has has experienced both sides of the spectrum.

Apr. 28 2011 12:36 AM

I think the studies concluding that White people are more likely to smoke pot are are poorly designed. If I asked whether you were a cigarette smoker and you smoked two cigarettes a year, you might answer 'no' because your smoking cannot be compared to 'smokers'. Consider a Black community where most people smoke pot regularly. A member of this community who only smokes twice a year might truthfully answer 'no' when asked whether he or she smokes marijuana. Now consider a White pot smoker who only gets high twice a year, but whose peers never do. He or she is more likely to answer 'yes' when asked whether they smoke pot.

Feb. 17 2011 01:20 AM

If 86% of the people arrested for marijuana possession are Black, I think they're targeting White people. Over the last 25 years, I've often hundreds (perhaps more than a thousand) people smoking marijuana on the street and all but a handful have been Black. White people smoke in their homes and buy in larger quantities so they don't have to run to the park every other day for a 'dime' bag (dime bags are less than a gram). Could I have just by chance failed to be in the right places to see White people smoking on the street? I don't think so. I know plenty of White people who with some regularity. None of them smoke on the street or in the parks.

Feb. 17 2011 01:09 AM
باتريك from Brooklyn

Prohibition must end. Alcohol makes me sad, it makes some violent. Cannabis makes me happy, it makes some sleepy. Why do my fellow citizens continue this Prohibition on marijuana? What am I doing that hurts You?

New York City has a particular distinction between concealed possession, an infraction, and possession "in public view," a misdemeanor. Those who mistakenly consent to search upgrade their own crime when an officer asks, "Nothing in your pockets? It's no big deal if you do..."

Do not consent to search. Whether you do or not, police will still put you in a jail but the courts are easier to navigate when you do not consent to search. (Step 1: Motion to suppress evidence.)

This is my own model for interaction with law enforcement. It hasn't prevented arrest and two nights in maximum security, but it has (somewhat annoyingly) kept the DA in a zero-tolerance state from filing several felony charges:

"Am I free to go? Why am I being detained? I am asserting the protections afforded me by the Constitution and I do not consent to any searches. Please advise me when I am no longer detained and free to go."

At this point, whether you've been told you are under arrest or not, pretend Detectives Stabler and Benson from SVU just slapped the handcuffs on you and Mirandized you. You must shut up. Do not give them more cause or evidence. Then go ask the National Organization for the Referral of Marijuana Lawyers for some help, pronto. You can talk to a lawyer for free about what to expect in the legal process. (Assuming you've got a friend that helped you make bail, a heavy assumption in NYC.)

Would Mayor Bloomberg be a billionaire if he'd been locked up for consuming cannabis? Yet he is comfortable admitting, "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it." Without student loans, would Barack Obama today be President? He too plainly states, "I inhaled, frequently. That was the point." Nevermind Bill Clinton eating a few brownies, even Lady Gaga on 60 Minutes last week said she wouldn't lie to her fans about drinking whiskey and smoking pot.

Perhaps we must now consider the effects of our city's drug policy and our nation's drug policy. Seven in eight marijuana arrests clearly illustrate the unjust nature of present laws. We must talk with our friends about change. As we sit in subway cars dedicated to Budweiser and whiskey we must ask each other if it is right to arrest someone for smoking a joint.

Please join me in reform. Consider me with empathy your fellow citizen, albeit total stoner. Consider this prison industry with the perspective Dr MLK Jr might offer us: "And so the first question that the priest asked--the first question that the Levite asked was, 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'" Disproportionately black or brown in its enforcement, New York City must end the deep injustice of Prohibition.

Feb. 16 2011 08:48 PM
a g from n j

war on drugs ?

what a waste of resources ?

human- financial- spirirtual

how can police want to take away guns,yet keep drugs illegal,don't you see the contradiction,the illicit drug trade,feeds the illicit gun trade.

Feb. 16 2011 04:05 PM
joel hubbard

I'm Sorry for my unenlightened post I tried it ,but I never inhaled.

Feb. 16 2011 02:08 PM
Mari from Westfield

My son's favorite teacher was just arrested for possession of marijuana. If he's found guilty, it'll be the end of his teaching career. He inspired my son, made him love coming to school, and helped send his standardized test scores through the roof. What will be accomplished by preventing this excellent teacher from continuing to help kids? Our marijuana laws are stupid and wrong.

Feb. 16 2011 01:25 PM

Legalize marijuana, tax it, and regulate as we do alcohol. Arresting people for possession is a waste of time and money not to mention that the overwhelming percentage of arrests of blacks and latinos is clearly about racial profiling. And marijuana is no more a "gateway" drug than alcohol, which is probably much more addictive and dangerous. And have you ever seen a stoner get into a fight? But I bet we've all seen our share of drunks brawling at bars and in the streets at 4 a.m.

Feb. 16 2011 12:03 PM
Tommy Haynes from west village

Attempting to make pot smokers feel guilty for Mexican drug wars is incredibly stupid.
THERE WOULD BE NO DRUG WARS IF IT WAS LEGAL.We would be growing it in America. we would be collecting taxes on it ,we would be more in control of who gets it and what's in it, many farmers could make a living and if we at least legalized Hemp that would be even more income for farmers.It is such a win-win but most importantly it is not the government's business if I want to smoke a plant that is less harmful than other legal drugs.

Feb. 16 2011 11:50 AM
Mark F. from Work

Brian, you really should apologize for your ignorant remark about being able to deduce two callers' race "based on their sound."

Feb. 16 2011 11:46 AM
Mark F.

Yes, Brian did claim that those two callers were Black "based on their sound." Brian, you should apologize for that ignorant remark.

Feb. 16 2011 11:45 AM
Anonymus from NYC

Of course this call-in happens while I'm already running late for work. Had an experience in Staten Island which exemplified the goal of police officers to make quota rather than serve and protect. Arrested for something found in a friend's car and charges were based on a lie perpetrated by the arresting officers. Public defender was not interested in defense, all just to bump up the statistics of the precinct without regard to the lives they might be destroying. Legalize it.

Feb. 16 2011 11:26 AM
joel hubbard from Long Island

Dude, 38,000 dead drug in Mexican wars,A little pot smoking never hurt anyone!
One thing I know I will never give you money again so W.N.Y.C. can air muddle minded pot heads! I am sorry that signed and encouraged others to sign a petition to NOT Cut Back Funding to N.P.R./P.B.S.. Next funding raising cycle "Don't Bogart that joint pass it on!" the bills will get payed.
Thanks for the wake up call!
Maybe W.B.A.I. is looking for a programmer?

Feb. 16 2011 11:24 AM
J.E. from Brooklyn

The instances covered on the show are obvious examples of police abuse of powers to make a quota or get time-and-a-half pay. People don't know their rights, officers are focused on the wrong offenses. I have a hard time endorsing smoking marijuana in public, though I do partake in the activity once in a while, but saying that laying off the marijuana arrests will lead to open air drug markets and poorer education records among young people is ludicrous.

And to dave (11:00 am), do you honestly believe that our marijuana consumption is fueling the Mexican drug war? It may be that some marijuana is crossing the border, but, come on. Buy domestic, California is just a UPS delivery away.

Feb. 16 2011 11:21 AM
Jennalee from Spanish Harlem

I just read an article stating that crime has gone down considerably in the last 20 years, murder by 84% as an example. I suggest not hiring any more policeman, because they're probably just bored. The younger crew are being trained by the older crew who saw exceedingly tough times and had to function in an intense environment. Young cops are being trained to be tough, with a "shoot first, ask questions later" sort of menatality unnecessary for this sort of crime.

Feb. 16 2011 11:17 AM
Francoise from Upper West Side

Blacks and Latinos have to be more discreet!
I have been a resident of NYC for many years. Whenever i smell pot in Central Park or on the streets, it always comes from an African American or a Latino.
Whites smoke indoors. that's why there are fewer arrests among their group

Feb. 16 2011 11:09 AM

there would be no drug war if we would stop making this a crime. it's my brain. stay away

Feb. 16 2011 11:03 AM
Charles from Harlem

As a white looking latino professional in my mid twenties, I will most likely never be arrested for possession of marijuana. For one, I know my rights. The decriminalization of marijuana in New York was intended to decrease the amount of arrests. Most arrests are anecdotally the result of police officers tricking "perps" into showing the officers the marijuana that's concealed, at which time they can be arrested for having it "in plain sight."

I know that smoking in public is an arrestable offense.

What's more, as a young professional, I'm in a position to purchase my weed from people that come directly to my home, unlike the majority of those arrested who are presumably participating in street transactions.

Whether intentional or not, the racial discrepancies in these arrests will continue as long as people remain ignorant of the law and are forced to buy their drugs on the street.

Feb. 16 2011 11:03 AM
dave from manhattan

have those arrested for marijuana possession complain to the families of those innocents killed in the mexican drug wars

Feb. 16 2011 11:00 AM
Naomi from BK

I have a friend (white, blond, doctor) who witnessed a stop and frisk in our 'hood. She couldn't get over how funny it was that she was the one "holding" and they were stopped instead of her.

She had just made a purchase herself.

Feb. 16 2011 11:00 AM
Mike from Tribeca

Only about five minutes for this story?

Feb. 16 2011 10:59 AM
Jessica Greenwich Village from Greenwich Village

I constantly see white club-goers and visitors smoking marijuana in my neighborhood, walking brazenly down the street. I don't see them getting arrested. The statistics skewing minority have got to be evidence of major racial profiling.

Feb. 16 2011 10:58 AM
Peg from Ithaca

A recent World Health study listed alcohol as THE MOST DANGEROUS DRUG. (and it's legal!) Marijuana was at the bottom of the list for negative health outcomes.

We are a drug loving nation. Many physicians prescribe very dangerous but legal drugs like oxycotin (Rush Limbaugh can tell you how great that stuff is).

Americans consume so many different products that can effect their physical and mental health (like too much refined sugar for instance). Marijuana is one of the least of our worries.

Besides being smokable the plant itself is quite remarkable and has evolved with humans since the beginning of civilization. Highly nutritious seeds in protein and the highest of all vegetables in omega 3's (great food for people and animals), high energy potential for alternative fuels, helps prevent erosion, the stalks can be used like firewood, and of course all the textile applications.

For heavens sake, stop framing this plant like an outlaw. Besides, the cost of criminalization is bankrupting us.

Feb. 16 2011 10:58 AM
Mauricio from Queens

Can you guys talk about what the actual pros and cons are of marijuana arrests? It seems to me that we are spending way too much money on these arrests. Why exactly would it not be a good idea to legalize it again? Please discuss!

Feb. 16 2011 10:58 AM
john from office

I feel no sympathy for these people.

Feb. 16 2011 10:57 AM

"I would not want someone smoking marijuana behind the wheel." EITHER.
i don't want someone behind the wheel drinking alcohol. should we out law alcohol also?

Feb. 16 2011 10:57 AM
John from office

The last thing Black and hispanic people need is another social drag on their development. Pot serves no purpose.

Feb. 16 2011 10:56 AM
Eric from Manhattan

"blacks and latinos.... like our previous two callers, based on their sound." umm....... did you mean to say that?

Feb. 16 2011 10:56 AM
Peter Shelsky from Brooklyn

One piece of the story that I don't see or hear being mentioned is that Upper middle class white folks often get their pot delivered through a discreet service in the privacy of their homes, whereas blacks and latinos are probably more likely to purchase on the street

Feb. 16 2011 10:56 AM
Jean from Manhattan

Did Brian just say he thought the two recent callers were black based on how they sounded? Huh?

Feb. 16 2011 10:56 AM
susan from NYC

Stupidest law ever. If the cops have time for this, we have too many cops. Solve the budget crisis by getting rid of excess (and excessive) cops, legalize and tax marijuana. Now that the dirty little secret of stop and frisk has been exposed, now they're using this as an excuse to do the same thing.

Feb. 16 2011 10:55 AM
Jamison from Fort Green

There are two man (a black man and a hispanic man) that smoke pot at the bus stop out side my biding ever morning with all the kids (not white) waiting for the bus too. You grow up seeing that and...

Feb. 16 2011 10:53 AM
john from office

Here we go again, like the stop and frisk issue. The police are oppressing the pooor the black the hispanic by arresting people for CRIMINAL ACTIVITY.

Pot does nothing for the poor, the black, the hispanic. It cause crime, poor grades in school and you must have some rules. Remember the 70's and the open drug markets.

It is not a harmless pass time.

Jamie, is proof that of the above.

Feb. 16 2011 10:52 AM
Dan from Inwood

I'm white, I've lived in Manhattan for 18 years & have never been arrested for smoking/holding weed. I don't smoke in public... just at home.

Feb. 16 2011 10:52 AM
WVillager from Manhattan

Minorities are more likely to walk around outside smoking pot. Whites do it in their apartments so they don't get caught. More cops cruising around in minority neighborhoods. My brother-in-law (white) got minor possession busted cuz cop looked down from a van and saw it sitting on his car seat.

Feb. 16 2011 10:52 AM
freestuffffff from downtown manhattan

Legalize pot already. Sheesh.

Feb. 16 2011 10:51 AM
Edward from NJ

How do these numbers break down when compared against people who were merely issued a summons for possession? Do people of color get arrested while white people just get a ticket and a court date?

Feb. 16 2011 10:51 AM
g.anon from bk

from time to time i would smoke on the street -- i know, i know. a few times i turned the corner and saw a cop. another time a cop car hit its lights (for another reason) coming down the street behind me. i now only smoke in the comfort of my apartment.

Feb. 16 2011 10:39 AM

Marijuana possession should continue to be illegal. I am a substance abuse counselor and psychotherapist. Mj is a powerful and very destructive drug and most people are, unfortunately, ignorant of how much physical and mental damage it causes, including perceptual problems. I would not want someone smoking marijuana behind the wheel.

Feb. 16 2011 10:36 AM
Tim from Brooklyn

Legalize cannabis in all of its forms and uses. Tax recreational forms and use the money to help close the budget gap, as well as the money saved from court costs and jail time. Maybe we wouldn't need to fire any teachers? Industrial hemp could also be used for biofuels and food products, marijuana arrests make it more difficult to get jobs, which helps to push people into more crimial activity.

Feb. 16 2011 10:35 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

It is complete insanity that we are arresting more New Yorkers for non-violent, victimless crime than for any other crime. There is no harm to society if New Yorkers are smoking marijuana. There is a debate about whether or not this behavior is harm the individual, but maybe if the cops focused on real crime we could have less officers, less arrests, and save a whole bunch of money.

Feb. 16 2011 10:34 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.