Manhattan DA says he'll stop prosecuting pot possession

Clay Curtis
May 17, 2018

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said on Tuesday he would stop prosecuting marijuana possession and smoking cases, the same day as the police department formed a working group to evaluate its marijuana-related arrests and summonses. Vance's office said the move could reduce Manhattan marijuana prosecutions from about 5,000 per year to about 200 per year - a 96 percent reduction.

Although Manhattan will be ending the majority of its prosecutions, it is requesting the city to present limited exceptions with regard to public safety for prosecution.

A New York Times analysis published Sunday revealed that in New York City, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white people over the past three years.

Tuesday's announcements suggest that NY ― a state now exploring the possibility of legalizing marijuana altogether, as other states have ― is starting to more forcefully tackle the disproportionate rates at which black people get arrested for marijuana, even though black and white people use marijuana at nearly the same rates, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The Times also debunked the NYPD explanation for the disparities, which the police attribute to more 311 and 911 complaints in certain neighborhoods.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, said Tuesday that the police department will overhaul its citywide marijuana-arrest policies within the next 30 days.

"We must and we will end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement", de Blasio said at a conference of the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

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Following the mayor's announcement, the NYPD said it would consult experts, advocates, and other outside groups during a 30-day policy review. New York City officials and district attorneys made efforts on Tuesday to curb marijuana arrests, which primarily affect black and Hispanic residents.

On Monday, Council Member Donovan Richards, the public safety committee chairman, pressed NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill on the topic. "We need an honest assessment about why they exist, and balance it in the context of the public safety needs of all communities". Neighborhoods in southeast Queens, East Harlem and the south Bronx in particular had more arrests than would be predicted based on calls. In contrast, the precinct covering Breezy Point and Rockaway Park had 113 calls, but only 22 arrests.

Sharpton said the disparity was especially shocking in a city that proved that the crime rate could still be kept down after eliminating stop and frisk.

Cuomo spoke after his Democratic primary opponent, actress Cynthia Nixon, called for the legalization of marijuana as a matter of racial justice. "People have to feel, they have to see that policing is being applied consistently across all different kinds of communities". However, these days it's becoming legal in some states.

"We can't be the ones who filled up Rikers Island, and they be the ones to fill up the bank if it is legalized", he said.

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