Queens leads the five boroughs in low-level marijuana possession cases — misdemeanor charges that have drastically decreased in volume under new NYPD protocols but are still marked by stunning racial disparities.
The number of unlawful, fourth- and fifth-degree marijuana possession cases have dropped significantly in Queens this year, but the borough accounts for more low-level weed prosecutions than Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island combined, according to client data compiled by The Legal Aid Society, which represents about half the indigent defendants in New York City.
And while low-level marijuana arrests have decreased by more than 88 percent citywide, racial disparities in who gets busted for weed possession have actually gotten worse.
In fact, nearly every single person busted for low-level weed possession in New York City was Black or Latinx during the first three months of this year, according to data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which was provided by the NYPD. Of the 476 people arrested for fifth-degree marijuana possession citywide, just 20 were white, according to the data set. The other 456 people arrested — more than 95 percent — were people of color.
People of color accounted for 93 percent of the 4,081 people arrested for fifth-degree marijuana possession during the first three months of 2018. Fifth-degree marijuana possession includes smoking in public or possessing more than 25 grams of marijuana.
“Even though arrests are down, the racial disparities are increasing. And they’re meaningful. You can see who they are targeting for sale and possession,” said Robert Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, which obtained and shared the data from the state.