NEW YORK — As the nation’s biggest city deals with threats of terrorism and a variety of violent crimes, carrying a little bit of marijuana is still a big deal.

There are more arrests for low-level pot possession in New York City — about 50,000 a year — than any other crime, accounting for about one of every seven cases that turn up in criminal courts.

It’s a phenomenon that has persisted despite more leniency toward marijuana use – the state loosened its marijuana-possession laws more than 30 years ago.

Critics say the deluge has been driven in part by the New York Police Department’s strategy of stopping people and frisking those whom police say meet crime suspects’ descriptions. More than a half a million people, mostly black and Hispanic men, were stopped last year — unfair targets, critics say. About 10 percent of stops result in arrests.

The department says that the strategy’s main goal is to take guns off the street and prevent crime, and that the tactic is a life-saving tool. But critics say officers looking for guns in pockets more often find pot and — though state law says the drug is supposed to be in open view to warrant an arrest — lock up the possessor anyway.

In response, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly recently reminded officers they can’t make arrests for small amounts of pot in people’s pockets or bags — and can’t trigger an arrest by searching people or telling them to empty their pockets.

But many New Yorkers, mostly black and Hispanic men, say they’re being targeted in the name of keeping the city safe.

Bronx community organizer Alfredo Carrasquillo, 27, estimated he’s been arrested on marijuana possession charges more than 20 times, starting when he was 14 and police ordered him to empty out his pockets outside his high school. He says he was arrested, but was never found smoking the drug or holding it out in the open — though a 1977 state law says those with 25 grams of the drug or less in their pockets or bags should only be ticketed. Legally, it’s a violation that doesn’t result in a criminal record.

Chino Hardin, 31, has been busted on marijuana charges more times than she can remember, most recently in 2003.

For each arrest, she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession and was released.

“At the time, I didn’t really have a good grasp of the laws around possession of marijuana,” she said, and after hours in custody, “all I wanted to do was just get out and go home.”