New York only made 514 marijuana arrests in 1978. Now it's 30,000 plus

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The year was 1978: The Bee Gees were on the radio; "Grease" made its debut; Jimmy Carter was doing something or other.

The smell of marijuana was also in the air — and the odds were you wouldn't get in trouble for smoking it, at least in New York State.

New York made just 514 marijuana-related arrests that year, according to data unearthed by Muckrock. Compare that to 2013, when there were 31,613 marijuana arrests in the state.


Why the extreme jump? Look up New York City's embrace of the "broken windows" theory of policing. The strategy, which came in response to the high crime rates of the 1990s, focused on prosecuting small-scale offenses. Marijuana-related arrests skyrocketed.


New York City accounted for 88.5 percent of the statewide total of marijuana arrests in 2013, according to Muckrock.

Civil rights groups believe the high number of marijuana arrests are unnecessarily saddling minority residents with criminal records. Black residents in New York City are 9.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white residents, according to Muckrock.


With that in mind, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in November that the city would issue a summons in lieu of an arrest to those caught possessing 25 grams or less of the drug. Since then, the number of arrests for misdemeanor marijuana charges has fallen sharply, but still remains dramatically higher than in the late 1970s.

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.