NYPD Is Getting Dragged Over This 'Drug Bust'

Police departments frequently share photos of the money and drugs they've confiscated during busts. It's meant to show the public that they're doing their job, keeping communities safe and taking drugs off the streets.

But this Twitter post that the NYPD shared last week has people wondering about the costs of prosecuting low-level drug offenders.

Here are some of the responses:

The photo features what appears to be a few bags of marijuana, vaporizer cartridges, nine small bags with a white substance that looks like cocaine, a scale, and $100 cash. The police department wrote that gang members were arrested in connection with the bust, but a representative did not immediately respond to a request for more information about the arrests.

Advocates for drug policy reform argue that tough laws against low-level drug offenders, including users and small-time dealers, can create more problems than they solve.


"While most people in state and local facilities are not locked up for drug offenses, most states’ continued practice of arresting people for drug possession destabilizes individual lives and communities," a 2017 report from the Prison Policy Initiative concluded. "Drug arrests give residents of over-policed communities criminal records, which then reduce employment prospects and increase the likelihood of longer sentences for any future offenses."

These kinds of arrests have additional costs. 


It's unclear how many police resources were used in this bust or how much the confiscation was worth, so we can't determine which was more expensive in this case. But with that said, the relatively small yield of cash and drugs has raised questions about whether taxpayer dollars should be spent on police enforcement efforts that target non-violent drug crimes.

Tony Papa, media manager at the Drug Policy Alliance, told ATTN: that the NYPD photo is another example of how "low-level drug offenses cost [New York City] a tremendous amount of money" that does "nothing more than fill our prisons with drug offenders cycling in and out." 

"The war on drugs is insane and must stop," he said. "I say [decriminalize] all drugs and stop the madness." 


What kind of solutions do advocates propose? 

The U.S. might not be ready to embrace the decriminalization of all drugs—a controversial proposal that some advocates view as a safer and more cost-effective alternative to prohibition—but efforts to decriminalize or legalize marijuana have shown promising results across the country.


Economists have estimated that costs associated with police enforcement of marijuana laws alone ranges from $2.1 billion to $3.7 billion annually at the national level. Police departments in states and cities that decriminalize cannabis are able to save money and prioritize enforcement of high-level crimes—at the same time that low-level marijuana offenders are diverted away from the criminal justice system.

The NYPD might argue that because the drug bust is allegedly gang-related, it warrants enforcement regardless of the financial costs. But in any case, the department's decision to share the photo of the confiscation led to some reasonable questions about their overall approach to such matters.