A highway billboard critical of Mayor Bloomberg’s marijuana enforcement policy was abruptly cancelled just before its scheduled appearance this week, spurring a round of finger-pointing between drug policy advocates, city spokespeople and representatives of the continent’s largest billboard advertiser.
The sign, which was to stand alongside the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, was sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports marijuana decriminalization. It would have read, “Nearly half of all New Yorkers have tried marijuana – including Mayor Bloomberg. We can’t arrest them all but Bloomberg is trying. Marijuana arrests last year: 50,000. Cost to taxpayers: nearly $100 million”
In a 2001 interview with New York Magazine, before he was elected to office, Mayor Bloomberg was asked if he had ever smoked marijuana. He replied, “You bet I did, and I enjoyed it.” In the years since, decriminalization advocates have argued that city police enforce marijuana laws disproportionately, targeting low-income black and Latino males for arrest.
The sign was supposed to go up on Monday, said Gabriel Sayegh, the Drug Policy Alliance’s project director. But late last week, the organization got an email from a representative of Titan 360, the billboard’s leasing agent, saying that the billboard’s unnamed owner had balked at the ad, citing “political circumstances from the mayor’s office.”
Mayoral representatives have steadily denied any involvement in the cancellation. “The mayor’s office had absolutely nothing to do with this,” spokesman Jason Post wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon.
Titan 360 representatives did not return a call Tuesday to the company’s New York office. Mayor Bloomberg has never questioned the accuracy of the New York Magazine quote.
Sayegh, meanwhile, said the billboard was not intended as a personal criticism of the mayor, but was meant to highlight the number of marijuana arrests under his administration, which have risen as a percentage of total arrests in the city. There have been more low-level marijuana arrests under Mayor Bloomberg, he added, than under the previous three mayors combined.
“This isn’t about Michael Bloomberg the person. This is about, he’s the mayor of the city; that’s who’s responsible for this,” Sayegh said. “This is about the profound, lifelong collateral consequences that are associated with an arrest, even a misdemeanor arrest. And these consequences are concentrated on black and Latino men in this city.”