An upstart challenger for the New York City mayor's office is calling out Bill de Blasio's "baffling" claim that the city has ended marijuana arrests — and he's pushing for the city to decriminalize possession of the drug.
The mayor made the comments during a talk at a Democratic candidate's forum in May.
Robert Gangi, a police reform activist, is challenging de Blasio for the Democratic Party nomination over what Gangi says is de Blasio's failure to keep his campaign promises. Ending marijuana arrests — and 'broken windows' policing — is a major component of Gangi's platform.
The broken windows theory of policing is drawn from a 1982 sociological study which states that harsh punishments for crimes like petty vandalism or marijuana use can contribute to a safer environment reduce overall crime rates. It's implementation, however, has had mixed results.
"Whatever the political climate, it's the right thing to do," Gangi said of ending marijuana arrests in an interview with Business Insider. "This is a view that more and more people share — is that this is a question of when, not if."
Marijuana arrests disproportionately affect people of color, according to 2016 NYPD statistics. Gangi's advocacy group, PROP, reported in a 2016 study that people of color accounted for 90% of arrests for suspicion of marijuana possession and sale, based on the figures provided by the NYPD — despite de Blasio's claims that the city has ended marijuana possession arrests.
In an email blast to supporters, Gangi's campaign said that the NYPD made 18,136 marijuana arrests and issued 20,712 summonses, for a total of 38,848 punitive interactions for marijuana possession in 2016. That's in spite of former NYPD police commissioner Bill Bratton's 2014 announcement that people caught with less than 25 grams of marijuana would receive a "noncriminal violation," or what amounts to a ticket, rather than a criminal charge.
For his part, de Blasio drew a distinction between low-level possession charges and the sale of marijuana in comments to reporters in May.
The mayor's office was not immediately available for comment.
When asked about the political situation — marijuana is illegal under federal law, though eight states have voted to legalize it — Gangi says that marijuana decriminalization is "urgently important" now more than ever.
President Trump's administration, together with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, isn't friendly to marijuana legalization, and plans to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants who may be swept up during marijuana arrests.
"It's way past time for the city to end broken windows policing, in part because it would serve as a protective step regarding immigrant New Yorkers," Gangi added. "It's all the more reason to not arrest for low-level infractions."
As for how decriminalization would actually look, Gangi said he would instruct police to stop ticketing and arresting people for the recreational use of marijuana.
"We'd only authorize a police response if the sale was connected to the exploitation of minors, or on a school playground, or things like that," Gangi said.
Gangi pointed to the boom in tax revenue in states like Colorado, where recreational marijuana use has been legalized, as evidence that legalization has worked.
If Gangi wins the mayoral election in November, he says he would absolutely use the "bully pulpit" of the mayor's office to advocate for statewide legalization.
"It's a policy that would save money," Gangi said. "You wouldn't need to direct law enforcement to sanction marijuana."
Steve Zeidman, a professor at CUNY Law, agrees with Gangi's assessment of marijuana arrests.
"New York has already decriminalized small amounts of marijuana and yet people still get arrested and charged with having small amounts of marijuana," Zeidman told Business Insider. "In fact, the data reveals that people of color disproportionately bear the brunt of those arrests."
In Zeidman's view, New York City should be pushing for outright legalization.
Gangi's chances at winning the mayoral election are pretty slim, as he's going up a Democratic incumbent. 60% of New Yorkers approve of de Blasio, according to a Quinnipiac poll from May.
In any case, New Yorkers go to the polls on November 7.
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