In a state where racially biased policing is the norm, Westchester County stands out as one of the most egregious examples of racial disparities.
In Westchester County – despite an abundance of research showing that Black and Latino people use marijuana at similar or lower rates than white people – people of color are arrested on misdemeanor marijuana possession charges at dramatically higher rates than their white neighbors, revealing a consistent pattern of racial bias that prevails in virtually every corner of the County, from its smallest villages to its most populous urban centers.
Between 2013 and 2017, Black and Latino people were vastly overrepresented among those arrested for low-level marijuana possession relative to their presence in Westchester’s population–despite data showing similar rates of use across populations. While only 14 percent of the County’s residents are Black, Black people comprised over half (52 percent) of those arrested for low-level marijuana possession. Latino people have also been disproportionately impacted, comprising just 24 percent of residents, but 32 percent of arrestees.
This massive increase of Westchester residents involved with the criminal justice system has had significant reverberations. A marijuana arrest creates a permanent criminal record that can easily be found by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies and banks.
This research brief informs the mobilizing work of Westchester County-based organizations and community groups in in support of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) and Start SMART NY, a campaign to end marijuana prohibition and repair the harms to communities.