Out of One Gram of Marijuana, a ‘Manufactured Misdemeanor’ (Participation)

Out of One Gram of Marijuana, a ‘Manufactured Misdemeanor’

Published: March 21, 2013

For marijuana smokers in the right neighborhoods, there is no need to go out for supplies. A dealer-businessman will come right to the door, sit at the dining room table and open a box that looks as if it could be used to display herbal tea choices in restaurants. This particular case, however, is used to show varieties of cannabis — weed — and the businessman will annotate the flavor and potency of his offerings. Bought and smoked behind closed doors, the pot in such transactions has almost no risk of attracting attention from law enforcement.

That was not the system used by Joseph Griffin, then 18, one summer night in the East New York section of Brooklyn. He walked a few blocks down Herkimer Street, made a purchase and headed back to smoke it at home.

“The plainclothes officers pulled up, and they asked me where I was going,” Mr. Griffin said. “I said, ‘Home.’ They jumped out. They was patting me down. He went into my pocket and found it. Then they put the handcuffs on.”

Mr. Griffin spent the night in one jail or another, taken from the precinct station to central booking and then to the courthouse in Brooklyn. Up to that point, his case had absorbed the energy of two police officers, a desk sergeant, a clerk who processed his paperwork and fingerprints, a driver who transported him to booking, other officers to secure him in the pen awaiting his appearance, a Legal Aid Society lawyer, an assistant district attorney, a court clerk and a court reporter to transcribe the proceedings.

Also, a judge, who instantly dismissed the case.

How much pot did Mr. Griffin have in his pocket that night?

“I had a blunt,” he said.

Just one?

“Yes,” he said.

How much did it cost?

“Five dollars,” he said.

A blunt, or marijuana cigarette, contains about one gram of marijuana, about the weight of a dash of salt. Mr. Griffin had been charged with the lowest-level misdemeanor on the books, Section 221.10, Subsection 1 of the New York State Penal Code. That statute makes it a crime to burn or openly display even small amounts of marijuana.

Since Michael R. Bloomberg became mayor in 2002, no crime has been more frequently charged: more than 440,000 people have been arrested solely on this misdemeanor charge. Whites use marijuana at higher rates than other racial groups, studies have found, but are rarely accused of “openly displaying” it. Depending on the year, 85 percent to 90 percent of those facing that charge are African-American or Latino. Most are under 20.

These are called “manufactured misdemeanors” because carrying marijuana in a pocket or bag is not a crime, but a violation. In New York City, when people are either searched or told to empty their pockets, the marijuana becomes open to public display, and therefore a misdemeanor.

These arrests are a tumorous outgrowth of the stop-and-frisk practices and are now broadly recognized as scandalous. No public official defends them. Yet they remain out of control.

The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, issued an order in September 2011 telling officers not to arrest people unless they were actually displaying the marijuana. The arrests briefly dropped, but were back in high gear for most of 2012, said Steve Banks, the lawyer in charge of the Legal Aid Society, which is now suing the city.

Every district attorney in New York City, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Bloomberg, the state sheriffs, and every other major law enforcement agency have endorsed changing the law to make it a misdemeanor only if a person were actually burning — smoking — the pot. The changes were proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Nevertheless, it became clear on Thursday that the law would not change during the meetings of the Legislature to decide a state budget.

The proposed reforms “got caught in the horse trading and political posturing,” Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Brooklyn Democrat, said. At one point, he said, the Senate Republicans offered to permit a vote on the marijuana reforms in exchange for increasing the number of bullets allowed in an ammunition magazine, to 10 from 7. “I think it’s unconscionable,” he said.

Almost all of the misdemeanor marijuana arrests are in New York City. “The way it is being viewed here is that the city should correct its problem,” State Senator Martin J. Golden, a Republican representing Brooklyn, said.

Although he does not want the state to “send the wrong signals” on a substance that is far more powerful than it was a decade ago, Mr. Golden said change appears inevitable. “I do believe if it hit the floor of the Senate, it would pass,” he said.


12 thoughts on “Out of One Gram of Marijuana, a ‘Manufactured Misdemeanor’ (Participation)

  1. I think it’s a joke that with all the other violent crimes that go on in New York (ones where race plays a big role) the one people are arrested the most for is having weed and not even neccesarily smoking it. It’s clear to see that officers are more likely to search an African American for weed. Its pretty sad to know this is true. I don’t understand why cops would take race into account when arresting someone for having weed.

  2. One of the comments that I find most interesting about this whole article is in the very last paragraph, where Mr.Golden says he doesn’t want to send the wrong signals by releasing some of the restraint on the marijuana laws in the city. I find it incredibly ridiculous that he doesn’t see how there are plenty of “wrong signals” already in place in relation to this law, such as the racism being openly displayed by the police officers. They are specifically going out and targeting Black people in the lower class neighborhoods, because as said in the beginning of the report, if you’re in the “right” (upper class) neighborhoods, (which consist of mainly Whites) you do not have to worry about cops pulling up and frisking you, intentionally looking for illegal substances. It was also said in this report that 85-90% of people facing marijuana charges are Black or Latino who are under 20 years old, while it is also clearly stated that they aren’t the biggest offenders.

  3. I believe that it is insane that weed is made such a big deal. In reality marijuana is one of the less dangerous substances. It is less addictive than tobacco products and safer and better on your body than alcohol. If anything liquor should be illegal. When was the last time you read in the newspaper that someone overdosed on weed, or crashed into a tree because they were high. As we talked about in class, marijuana was looked at as so bad back in the day because it was the drug choice of many black musicians. It seems as if ever since then marijuana couldn’t shake the reputation of being a horrible drug. Another thing that I find insane about this selection is how it states that whites use marijuana more than any race. However 85-90 percent of those facing marijuana charges are African-American or Latino. Which goes to show the group that they target and put most effort in to trying to incarcerate them.

  4. Honestly there are such bigger things that law enforcement should be focusing on. Racial profiling aside, I think that arrest over possession of marijuana is just silly because the incarceration is taking up space for real criminals, and taxes that just could be used on more important things. On a more serious note, the racial profiling is the worst part about this problem. It is just too painfully clear that African Americans are targets for not just marijuana but drug arrest in general. The statistics are insane… The fact that law enforcement will come up with any excuse to randomly pull over and African American man to check them for drugs or weapons is such a reflection on how racism still thrives here.. Just as many Caucasian men should be pulled over as any other kind of race, especially if they are just “random checks.” These people are also being pulled over in lower income areas, when people in more affluent neighborhoods are typically known to carry drugs on them just as often as people in these targeted areas, especially because they can afford them. The fact that he says he doesn’t want to change the rule to send out a “wrong message” is just such an oxy moron.

  5. I can understand someone being arrested if there walking around in public smoking whatever there using. But I’ve never understood why they aren;t allowed to carry it in there pockets. I mean were allowed to have concealed weapons (permit required but still legal) but not even a blunt with the amount of weed equivalent to a dash of salt. This also shows the stop and frisk law is just a waste of police time, and tax payers money. Instead of the cops busting actual violent criminals there forced to fill a quota of drug related criminals and fill out all the paper work and other things that go with an arrest. And in this case all of that was wasted since the judge just threw the case out anyway.

  6. It is ridiculous that having weed on you can warrant an arrest. There is so much more crime that can be the center of the “War on Drugs” and for something as little as a misdemeanor to attract so much time and effort is just not right. Having Mr. Griffin spend the night in jail over 5 dollars worth of marijuana might just be the biggest joke I have ever heard. The racial profiling that takes place in lower income areas only adds to what is already a messed up law. Having a cop trick a person into revealing their weed in order to warrant an arrest is disturbing and should be considered a crime in itself. The police need to be focusing on bigger, more harmful drugs than marijuana.

  7. The way I see it, there is tons of racism in society and many stereotypes to go with them. As “living in the right neighborhoods” seems to outrage everybody here, keep in mind that its not just the police who are just so racist, its society. If the police put heavy patrols in the richer neighborhoods then the people with resources and education to do something about it and complain will, and that only hurts the police. So as you may take it as completely racist that police are cracking down so much in only poorer places and more black people happen to live there (as a cause from history or whatever you would like to contribute), thats where the police still can convict PEOPLE BREAKING THE LAW REGARDLESS and they don’t deal with as much resistance. In a neighborhood that is well of or rich full of black people and mostly whites were in the “ghetto” you would see the same. Its about money, not race. And though the guy here was arrested and went through all that, and this “out in the open” law is in place. He was dismissed. Any lawyer in court can take away the out in public added charge seeing that the police took it out. Its legal for the police to use scare tactics and say you’ll get the added charge to get you to settle.

  8. This should not even be a discussion on whether or not to change the marijuana law. You should not be able to search someone because they are walking at night in a rougher neighborhood. Then you get charged for openly displaying an illegal substance because the officers pulled it out of you pocket is ridiculous. There are worst criminals out there kidnapping kids, shooting up schools and malls then someone who is going into the privacy of their own home to smoke a substance that usually makes you lazy and just sit there. There are bigger criminals to catch than the average pot smoker.

  9. After reading this article and many more articles that I have read that involve drug use and those who possess it I just don’t understand why the U.S. only really seems to care about the different races that have been found it. They know even though many don’t want to accept it that white students, American adults are one of the most common users of illegal drugs. Even studies show it. The U.S. makes a big deal about how they have to spend so much money with all those people that are incarcerated because of drugs which are mostly African Americans and Latinos and yet they don’t seem to put a stop to all those Americans that use it. If white people would stop buying drugs from Latinos or African Americans they would probably not continue to sell it to them, they would find some other place to sell it. But that is one of the main reasons why Latinos try to one way or another to bring it into the U.S., because they know they have buyers here for sure, they know that this where they will get the money they want for it. U.S. officers should not just look at all the negatives about the drug dealers but also about white people which are the ones that are also very involved in illegal drugs in many ways as well. There always trying to find a way to just blame African Americans and Latinos and leave Whites as the “good people”.

  10. I believe that the laws regarding”pot” in each state should be enforced only as a misdemeanor if caught with it, in the act of doing something else that is an infraction. I do not find it right that that young man was patted down for simply replying to the police for what they asked! But since they saw that he was African American, in a bad part of town that he must be up to something bad. The part that i find the most appalling is there was no probable cause what so ever. this so happened that he had a blunt. They would of most likely stopped another young black boy and could of found nothing. Our justice system is power hungry, and looks for people they know they can easily prey on and have no one question their authority

  11. I feel that the NYPD should really put less concern and effort around people smoking weed. It is, for the most part, a harmless drug (in the sense of those who are under the influence if it are not often violent or disruptive in any way really). Being arrested for having only a blunt on you is a bit harsh/ridiculous. The NYPD and all police forces have bigger fish to fry- murderers, rapists, robbers, etc. If more time, effort, and money was spent on finding/convicting the REAL criminals, then I think there would be less overall crime- even petty crime. The “War on Drugs” should almost not even include marijuana. Cocaine, meth, and other drugs are much more addictive, harmful to users, dangerous, and lead to further crime than weed. No one should be spending a night in jail over $5 worth of weed, that’s just wasting everyone’s time and money and taking up the space in jail that should be set aside for real criminals. In addition, the constant racial profiling around drugs that goes on in poorer cities needs to stop. No one should be basically forces to reveal what’s in their pockets just because they are black/latino and are walking around in a ghetto area alone at night. America is founded on freedom and that’s not that blacks/latinos are experiencing at all.

  12. I feel that the NYPD shoudnt have made so much of a big deal about because it was just such a small amount of marijuana and plus the judge dismissed the case anyways. Being arrested with a blunt is really bad the police should out trying to find bigger crime in the streets. Since the mayor bloomberg became mayor about 44,00o people have been arrested of this small mistemeanor and out of that large number 85 to 90 percent are black or latino under 20. With the stop-and-frisk law it seems as if the police seem to target minorities more and its been proven that more whites use marijuana.

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