Manhattan Island To End Marijuana Prosecutions

Beginning August 1 in Manhattan, those people found in possession of marijuana will no longer be prosecuted, according to a new policy outlined by the Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office in a July 31 press conference. Before that, the office circulated the “decline to prosecute” policy to the New York Police Department (NYPD) and all Manhattan assistant district attorneys.

The DA’s office wants possession and use prosecutions to drop to nearly nothing; the goal is a 96 percent reduction throughout the borough of Manhattan. DA Cyrus Vance Jr. said that the “needless criminalization of pot smoking” is hampering his core mission to keep Manhattan’s justice system safe, equal and fair.

[Read More: How Cannabis Legalization Is Affecting Governor's Races This Fall]

Vance said that his office’s research found no compelling public safety reason for continuing to arrest people who smoke marijuana. His office benchmarked other regions that have enacted decline-to-prosecute policies, and also commissioned a report on how cannabis legalization affects cities similar to Manhattan. Based on that research, Vance announced the new policy in May; it goes into effect today.

The needless criminalization of pot smoking frustrates our core mission, so tomorrow, we're getting out of the game. #CJreform pic.twitter.com/keYesNzPoD

— Cyrus Vance, Jr. (@ManhattanDA) July 31, 2018

 

He also stated that there is no “moral justification for the intolerable racial disparities that underlie enforcement.”

Vance said that there are still many other institutions that frown on smoking marijuana. After all, being caught can affect one’s job, college acceptance or immigration status. Vance doesn’t want his office to be part of that system.

[Read More: How Do I Obtain a Medical Marijuana Card in My State?]

The DA also sent a clear message to New York lawmakers to legalize marijuana —with the appropriate regulations. Indeed, there are several signs that New York is poised to legalize cannabis fully. Manhattan’s effort is one of many local marijuana reforms that have been enacted to move the ball forward.

Furthermore, the Democratic Party in New York went on record as pro-cannabis legalization during its recent party convention in May. In what is sure to be a heated gubernatorial race between incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo and his progressive, pro-legalization opponent, actress Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo’s office recently issued a Health Department report concluding that the “pros outweigh the cons” regarding marijuana legalization.

Our research has found virtually no public safety rationale for prosecuting these cases, and no justification for the underlying racial disparities. pic.twitter.com/wXDxOr3MAf

— Cyrus Vance, Jr. (@ManhattanDA) July 31, 2018

 

Like Manhattan, Brooklyn began its own non-prosecution pilot program from January to June 2018. During that time, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez showed a dramatic 91 percent reduction in marijuana prosecution cases. After the pilot, Gonzalez said, “I intend to maintain this approach and to only prosecute the most egregious offenses, which will help ensure fairness and equal justice.”

Both district attorneys use the same premise—that aggressive prosecution of personal possession cases does not necessarily equate to a safer city. The two also say that there are “glaring racial disparities regarding who is and is not arrested,” which only feeds the already burning fire that is lack of trust in law enforcement—and that leads to everyone being less safe.

Both DAs were quick to point out that there will still be prosecution of cases where the person in question is posing a threat to public health. The DA will likely also prosecute sellers of large quantities (10 bags or more), and cases where NYPD has additional information that the person might pose a demonstrated public safety threat, such as a person under active investigation or someone who has already committed another serious crime.

 

*Photo Credit: By Saffie 55 [CC BY-SA 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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