According to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union, there is a significant racial disparity at work when it comes to marijuana arrests.

Despite more tolerate social attitudes, marijuana is still illegal in New York. Even though many people think of social marijuana use as a relatively common and innocuous activity, the truth is that a conviction for possessing or selling marijuana can have serious long-term consequences.

However, not every marijuana smoker bears this risk equally.  The ACLU analyzed drug arrest data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and found that black Americans were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes than white Americans. The ACLU’s data further shows that both blacks and whites have similar rates of marijuana use.

The racial disparity is most pronounced in Midwestern and Northeastern states. New York had the tenth highest disparity, with blacks being about 4.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana crimes.

Arrests up nationwide

What’s more, the report showed that, overall, marijuana arrests are much more common than most people realize.

Between 2001 and 2008, there were over 8.2 million marijuana arrests in the United States. Most of these weren’t dealers or kingpins. In fact, 88 percent of all marijuana arrests during this time period were for simple possession.

Marijuana arrests have increased even further since then. The New York Times reports that the nationwide marijuana arrest rate during the first three years of Barack Obama’s presidency was 5 percent higher than the average arrest rate during George W. Bush’s two terms.

Despite this, marijuana use is increasing. The same New York Times report showed that in 2011, 7 percent of American admitted in a survey to using marijuana at some point during the past 30 days. In 2002, 6 percent of Americans admitted the same. In addition, a 2013 survey from the Pew Research Center showed that a majority of Americans now support the legalization of marijuana.

New York marijuana possession penalties

Given the serious penalties that can follow from a marijuana conviction, it is important for New Yorkers who choose to use marijuana to take time to understand the consequences they could face if they are caught.

A first offense for possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana (a little more than three-quarters of an ounce) is punishable by a $100 fine. Repeat offenses bring higher fines, and a third offense can result in up to 15 days in jail. A first offense for smoking or displaying marijuana in public is a Class B misdemeanor than can result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $250.

Racial disparity in marijuana arrestsThe penalties are much greater for possessing larger amounts of marijuana. Possessing between 25 grams and 8 ounces is a misdemeanor that can bring up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $250. Possessing anything more than 8 ounces is a felony offense that could result in a lengthy prison sentence.

Face serious consequences

New York residents can also face serious consequences for being caught with marijuana in their vehicle. Under New York law, the mere odor of marijuana gives police the authority to search a vehicle. This search can often lead to more serious criminal charges if other evidence is found. Drivers can also face charges for driving while ability impaired by marijuana. In a driving while ability impaired by drugs case, the burden of proof for establishing impairment of one’s driving is far less than driving while intoxicated and the officer need only show that the ability to drive was impaired by marijuana to any extent whatsoever to meet this burden and result in a criminal conviction.

In addition to these criminal penalties, a marijuana conviction can make it difficult to obtain some professional licensures and can disqualify students from receiving many forms of financial aid.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a marijuana crime in New York, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The attorney will be able to review the circumstances of the incident to ensure that the arrested person’s rights are protected.