New York City officials announced Tuesday that they are reforming policies for arresting and prosecuting people accused of low-level marijuana offenses.
Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said his office will decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases starting Aug. 1, citing “a new effort to reduce inequality and unnecessary interactions with the criminal justice system.”
“The dual mission of the Manhattan DA’s office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system,” saidMr. Vance, a Democrat. “The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals.”
The New York Police Department will overhaul its policies for enforcing pot laws in the next 30 days, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, adding the city “must and we will end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement.”
The NYPD arrested nearly 17,000 people for low-level marijuana offenses in 2017, and about roughly 86 percent of those were either black or Hispanic, according to data from the New York State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services.
“The NYPD does not target people based on race or other demographics,” Commissioner James O’Neill said Tuesday. “But there are differences in arrest rates, and they have persisted going back many years, long before this current administration. We need an honest assessment about why they exist, and balance it in the context of the public safety needs of all communities.”
“The NYPD has no interest in arresting New Yorkers for marijuana offenses when those arrests have no impact on public safety,” Mr. O’Neil said in a statement, adding that a working group will review existing policies for enforcing laws against possession and publicly smoking marijuana “in the fairest way possible.”
An analysis conducted by Mr. Vance’s office found that the the number of marijuana cases prosecuted in Manhattan will plummet from around 5,000 per year to about 200 once the policy change is implemented, or a reduction of about 96 percent.
One borough over, meanwhile, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez issued a statement Tuesday supportive of the policy change.
“I believe that low-level marijuana cases should be responded to with summonses rather than arrests,” Gonzalez said. “Since 2014, the Brooklyn DA’s Office has led the way in declining to prosecute marijuana possession cases, resulting in a 75 percent decline in arrests citywide and confirming that such policy does not adversely affect public safety.”
New York state decriminalized marijuana possession in 1977 and legalized medical marijuana in 2014, but smoking pot in “public view” currently remains an arrestable offense in Manhattan and elsewhere.
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