Manhattan District Attorney will stop prosecuting marijuana smoking and possession

Manhattan District Attorney will stop prosecuting marijuana smoking and possession

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance has confirmed that starting August 1, his office will no longer be prosecuting marijuana smoking and possession cases.

The announcement was the result of six months of policy analysis and research that included discussions with legal authorities in areas where marijuana possession and use is no longer a criminal offense. Mr. Vance also released a report summarizing its findings, which helped to shape the new policy.

The DA explained that the purpose of the policy is to support a fairer justice system. At present, more black and Hispanic individuals are being charged with marijuana offenses in their respective neighborhoods than those residing in predominantly white communities. These arrests affect a person’s employability, access to education, and even immigration status, leaving a high number of New Yorkers limited in their prospects and alienated from law enforcement.

Concerned by the racial disparities in enforcement, DA Vance began to advocate actively for marijuana possession to be decriminalized in 2012. Last year he created one of the state’s most lenient marijuana policies: defendants facing a first-time charge of smoking in public received a 90-day Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal while second offenders received 180 days. If they avoid further arrest during these periods, they receive a dismissal in their cases and their records are sealed.

The new policy should reduce marijuana prosecutions in the city from 5,000 per year to about 200. The DA explained that his office was now “in discussions with the Mayor and Police Commissioner to consider limited exceptions” to the new rules.

Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill conceded that some marijuana-related arrests had no appreciable impact on public safety and said that he would assemble a group to review current enforcement tactics for marijuana crimes.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said that the number of marijuana smoking cases that his office prosecuted had dropped by half in the last three months and that he planned to throw out even more cases after the police department offered its opinion. He added that he favored civil summonses for marijuana instead of arrests.

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark recommended that the police give criminal summonses instead of making arrests but did not state that her office would refrain from prosecuting further cases. The office of Queens D.A. Richard A. Brown stated that it was awaiting the outcome of the Police Department review and the office of Michael E. McMahon, Staten Island D.A., did not comment.

Drug reform advocates and defense attorneys in New York warned that as long as marijuana use remained a crime, the police could still use the odor of marijuana as a pretext to stop people, search them, and check for open warrants. Scott Hechinger, director of policy at Brooklyn Defender Services, said that in this respect, the odor of pot has become the “new broken taillight.”

If you have been charged with a drug crime or are concerned that you may be, then contact the Law Offices of Julie Rendelman, LLC. Ms. Rendelman handles both New York State and Federal criminal cases and offers free consultations. Call 212-951-1232 to learn more.