K. is a professional. He gets up early in the morning to trudge around north Brooklyn with a black leather briefcase. His customers demand the best, whether it’s vacuum-sealed and sent through the mail, or stashed away in a jar of peanut butter with somebody’s luggage. “I have some lawyer clients and business types, you know, people who have to think and function during the day,” he says, “They go right for that pure sativa—the really heady high.” And he has yet to have any run-ins with the law.
H. on the other hand, was booked for smoking in public late last year. “Sloppy cops,” she says, “and they never read us our rights—fingerprinted me, but never took my mug shot.” She had to go through the whole court process Downtown, where many others were being arraigned for the same possession charge. She got off with a year’s probation, no fine.
At rush hour, M. comes down the stairs of the Nevins Street 2/3/4/5 subway. She spots a checkpoint at the bottom and immediately they call her over. “This is going to be harmless,” the officer says. “He literally touched the outside and the bottom of my purse,” she later recounts. Ten seconds later she’s through the turnstile with two grams and two hash pipes undetected.
At night when, everyone’s gone home and the streets are dead quiet, A. walks around the Financial District with C. smoking a joint. Really good stuff, he recalls. So good, he remembers saying to C., “Man, this is really great pot!” As soon as he looks up, he finds a “big bad copper” staring him down. “Drop it, dumbass!” The cop tells C. to scram, and he does. A. is searched and identified. Then he bites the bullet. “I pleaded and begged. Told him I was in college and shit,” A. says, “He let me go, but I did lose that big roach.”
And around midnight, B. rides his bike over to Bed-Stuy like he usually does every week or so. He locks it up on a corner post and goes up to his “guy’s” house. Five minutes later, he’s out of there, hops back on and rides off. Except he doesn’t get very far. An NYPD cruiser pulls him over for no apparent reason. “We know what you’re doing, empty your fucking pockets,” they yell, “you wont get in trouble if you cooperate.” He hasn’t done anything wrong at this point, and they never tell him why he was pulled over, but he complies. “I did what they told me thinking I’d get off easy,” B. says, pulling out two $20 bags in the process. “Nope! They booked me for having it ‘open to public view’.”
Just another day in the “Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World.” That’s right. Despite the fact pot smoking rates have stayed virtually unchanged over the past decade, the number one reason for arrest today in New York City is misdemeanor possession. In fact, in 2010, there were more arrests for possession than there were from 1978-96 put together—the first 25 years, that is, since possession of less than an once of marijuana was decriminalized in New York.
So, why have there been more pot busts under Bloomberg than under Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani combined?
“Didn’t inhale” was still hanging heavy on everyone’s mind when Mike Bloomberg got the pot question during his first run for Mayor. Surprisingly, he came right out of the hot box. “You bet I did,” he said, “And I enjoyed it.” NORML applauded him, saying, “At last, an honest politician.” They ran a $500,000 ad campaign, setting him up as the poster boy for common sense.