Jacob Sullum

"Our clients are still regularly stopped (and) searched, and marijuana is recovered from their pocket," a Bronx public defender told The Associated Press last week. "At no point were they having it out (or) smoking it."

If such arrests are as common as they seem to be, most of the 400,000 or so pot smokers busted on Kelly's watch have been wrongly detained, wrongly fingerprinted, wrongly jailed, wrongly booked and wrongly saddled with criminal justice records and all the attendant expense, inconvenience and humiliation. Adding to the unfairness, these burdens are disproportionately borne by young black and Latino men, even though surveys indicate they are less likely to smoke pot than young white men.

The marijuana arrests are largely an outgrowth of the NYPD's "stop and frisk" program, which focuses on supposedly suspicious individuals in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods. In New York City during the last three years, Levine calculates, blacks were seven times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites.

To stop these bogus busts, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) have introduced a bill that would treat public display the same as possession for small amounts of marijuana. Kelly had a chance to show this legislation was not necessary, but it is abundantly clear by now that the NYPD cannot be trusted to decide whether pot smokers should be treated like criminals.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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