New York City has seen a dramatic drop in the number of cannabis-related arrests and summons in the first quarter since the state’s legalization law took effect. It might not seem too surprising to see arrests decline following cannabis legalization, the drop was far more significant than those seen in other jurisdictions that have previously ended marijuana prohibition–and it likely has to do with a unique aspect of New York’s marijuana law that allows for public smoking. Ever since folks were allowed to twist rolling papers in public, arrests for criminal possession of cannabis diminished from 163 in the first quarter of 2021 to just eight in the latest quarter.
Since legalization, adults 21 and older can possess up to three ounces of marijuana, so those bust are for possession in excess of the limit. Marijuana-related summons, meanwhile, dropped from 3,687 in the first quarter to just eight in April, May, and June. However, six were for unlawful possession of marijuana and two were for unlawful sales.
The state has yet to launch retail sales of recreational cannabis, creating an access barrier. Compared to Chicago, in the first year after Illinois legalized marijuana took effect and retailers opened in 2020, there were still almost 3,000 cannabis-related arrests, disproportionately targeting black people. Even though most of those arrests were for possession over the lawful limit and illicit sales, another factor that has probably contributed to the more abrupt deficit in arrests and summons in New York City is that, unlike other legal states, public consumption of marijuana is legal in places where tobacco use is permitted. In New York City, the new law, and its specific protections for public use are achieving a primary goal of marijuana reform in a timely manner.
It’s also likely helped that after then-Governor Andrew Cuomo signed cannabis legalization into law, NYPD sent a memo to officers updating them on the new policies for marijuana and explaining what they can and can’t bust people over. Although retail sales aren’t expected to launch in the state until next year, newly inaugurated Governor Kathy Hochul, who replaced Cuomo after he resigned amidst a sexual harassment scandal, is prioritizing the implementation of legalization. The governor’s office in January said, “Cannabis legalization will create more than 60,000 new jobs, spurring $3.5 billion in economic activity and generating an estimated $300 million in tax revenue when fully implemented.” New York is a clear-cut example of the direct impact of marijuana reform.