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Despite pledges, minorities in NYC continue to be targeted for low-level drug offenses

For decades, marijuana’s inclusion on the federal government's list of Schedule 1 controlled substances has been the subject of much debate and controversy. In more recent years, the possible medicinal benefits of marijuana have come to light and 23 states and Washington D.C. passed measures legalizing the drug for medical use. Additionally, today four states and D.C. have passed laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and several cities, including New York City, have passed measures to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the drug.

On Nov. 11, 2014, the New York Police Department announced that officers would stop arresting individuals who were found to be in possession of 25 grams or less of the drug. Today, rather than criminal drug charges, these individuals must pay a fine of between $100 to $250 and are issued a summons to appear in court.

As of October 2015; NYPD statistical data showed that marijuana arrests were down 40 percent and summonses were up 25 percent. Speaking at a press conference in 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke to the fact that "Blacks and Latino communities have been disproportionately affected by marijuana-related arrests and convictions.” However, data from last October revealed that, despite information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service showing that "white people between the ages of 18 and 25 use marijuana at a higher rate than their black peers," blacks and Latinos in New York City are three or more times likely to receive a summons to appear in court for marijuana possession.

An individual who receives a summons related to marijuana possession must appear in court and pay a fine. A missed court date will result in a warrant being issued which can subsequently result in an individual being arrested and forced to spend time in jail. For many individuals, taking time off of work to appear in court would result in a job loss.

While decriminalizing low-level marijuana charges is a step in the right direction, the lives of far too many New York City residents are still being ruined by the city's apparent disproportionate targeting of minority populations in relation to marijuana summonses.

Source: Vice, "Weed Is Basically Legal in New York City Now, but Only If You're White," Theodore Hamm and Alex S. Vitale, Oct. 23, 2015

New York Daily News, "NYPD to stop arresting for minor marijuana possession, will issue tickets instead," Tina Moore, Rocco Parascandola, Corky Siemaszko, Nov. 11, 2014

ProCon.org, "23 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC," Feb. 29, 2016

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