Will 27,000 Annual Marijuana Arrests Stop in New York City Under Mayor Bill de Blasio?

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On New Year’s Day, Bill de Blasio was officially sworn into office as the mayor of New York City by former President Bill Clinton. It was a victory for the city’s socially liberal residents, who have not seen a Democratic mayor in New York since the early 1990s, when David Dinkins held the position.

Both Clinton and de Blasio have admitted, at the time of their individual campaigns for office—which has seen both men emerge victoriously as president and mayor, respectively—that they had experimented with marijuana in the past.

With that understanding, it would come as no surprise that when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in January that 20 hospitals in New York would help the state ease into the distribution of medical marijuana, de Blasio was immediately supportive.

Advocates for the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana had already noted his stance throughout his mayoral campaign, including a revealing interview on the topic with Hot 97’s radio host, Peter Rosenberg, which shed light on de Blasio’s initiative to begin pushing towards the decriminalization of marijuana.

“I want a law passed in Albany that would end it and I would instruct the NYPD, right now, [to] stop arresting people for displays of small amounts. It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t make us safer,” stated de Blasio.

That restraint may come as a struggle, however, for New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who once held the position from 1994-1996, under Rudy Giuliani’s tenure as mayor. At the time of Bratton’s initial stint as commissioner, arrests for marijuana possession began to spike dramatically, increasing well after he left the position.

In 1993, there were fewer than 1,500 arrests citywide for marijuana possession. When the Giuliani-Bratton duo took over the city one year later, that number doubled and continued to increase under the tandem’s authority. It peaked at nearly 10,000 arrests in 1996 by the time their administrative marriage had ended.

Bratton may have been gone but Giuliani had firmly established his abhorrence for low-level marijuana users. Bratton’s successor, Howard Safir, rode the momentum of this excessive crusade, beginning with over 17,000 arrests in 1997 and outrageously ending his tenure with 51,000 arrests in 2000, bringing a staggering climax near the end of the Giuliani-era in New York City.

In 2007, Giuliani still viewed marijuana as an impractical treatment for those with chronic illnesses or in need of pain relief. He saw no reason to legalize it medically, believing that those that did had an ulterior motive to legalize it recreationally and he pointed to legal medical alternatives as a solution.

“You can accomplish everything you want to accomplish with things other than marijuana, probably better. There are pain medications much superior to marijuana,” declared Giuliani, then a presidential hopeful, at a campaign stop at New Hampshire Technical Institute.

Former mayor of New York City, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, has admitted to not only experimenting with marijuana, but he brashly admitted to New York Magazine, before his aspirations to run for mayor, that he enjoyed it.

In 2002, his answer to the question of whether he had ever smoked marijuana made its haunting resurrection, when the quote was immortalized as part of an advertising campaign for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

He regretted making the comments, but showed no remorse for telling the truth. And still, it didn’t stop him from believing that New York should enforce its irrationally strict laws or that the decriminalization of marijuana is a bad idea.

The arrest numbers show that Bloomberg vehemently stood by his words.

His 12-year term as mayor was accompanied by the appointment of Ray Kelly as New York City Police commissioner. Kelly was Bloomberg’s guy and that led him to become the longest tenured police commissioner in the city’s history. Under their watch, New York City’s marijuana-related arrests spiked to roughly 27,000 per year.

Last year, Bloomberg echoed Giuliani’s sentiments on the legalization of medical marijuana, concluding that there are no medical benefits to it and dismissing it as “one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.”

Today, de Blasio gives some realistic hope to marijuana advocates in the city. It may be baby steps, but slow progress. Yes, he is supportive of medical marijuana usage and its benefits, however, he does not see the citizens of New York buying an ounce of their favorite strain from their corner store bodega in the immediate future—not legally, anyway.

Enrique is A New York City-based writer with a penchant for rebellion. His writing has been published on Broke-Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website, Alt. Variety Magazine, New York Natives, Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory Blog and Cannabis Now Magazine. When he’s not reading comic books, he can be found marching at the Mermaid Parade with the weirdoes in Coney Island.

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