While tolerance of marijuana is generally on the rise in the U.S., New York City is making a mission out of petty weed arrests. Misdemeanor cannabis possession arrests rose almost 30 percent in the first half of this year, as compared to the same period of time in 2015, according to data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services reported by Courthouse News.
9,331 cannabis arrests were reported in the first half of 2016, versus 7,236 in the first half of 2015. Even more alarmingly, 90 percent of those arrests were of minorities, while data shows that white people in New York use and sell marijuana at least as much as those categorized minorities.
While the NYPD is making it a priority to enforce marijuana crimes, the use of “synthetic marijuana” has skyrocketed under their watch. The last several years have seen a massive spike in the use of the drug, which is also known as K2 and Spice. New York City saw more than 6,000 emergency room visits due to consumption of K2 last year, as reported by the NY Times.
Spice is a difficult substance to police. Manufacturers constantly change the chemical makeup of the drug in order to avoid prosecution for selling it, causing unpredictable side effects for users. Last fall, NYC passed a blanket ban on all substances branded “synthetic marijuana,” but the drug had already taken hold, especially among the city’s homeless population.
K2 has intense and sporadic side effects, including paralysis, psychosis, and seizure. 33 people were taken at one time into emergency medical care last month after a particularly bad batch of Spice got out on the streets of Brooklyn.
Part of the reason for using K2, alongside its extremely low cost, could be the increasingly risky practice of smoking marijuana in public in the city. While marijuana arrests disproportionately affects minorities in the city, K2 use similarly favors the population’s disenfranchised. In 2014, current NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged in 2014 to reduce the city’s pursuit of low-level marijuana arrests in order “to rebuild the relationship between the NYPD and the communities they serve,” that doesn’t seem to be the case.
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