New York City DA Moves to Dismiss Thousands of Marijuana Cases

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More than 3,000 cases of marijuana smoking and possession were dismissed Wednesday in Manhattan, the latest example of New York City officials relaxing the marijuana enforcement policy.

The 3,042 cases that were dismissed, including some that date as far back as 1978, do not include those for violent crimes, said District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who presented the motion to dismiss in New York City Criminal Court.

"Outstanding warrants for these low-level cases drive law enforcement and our communities apart," Vance said. "New Yorkers with warrants face unnecessary loss of employment, housing and immigration consequences, and because many of them fear they will be arrested for an open warrant, they don't collaborate with the (New York Police Department) and district attorneys to keep our communities safe."

Criminal Court Judge Kevin McGrath granted the dismissal and said the cases would be sealed in 90 days. The 90-day period allows administrations the time to file the paperwork appropriately, Vance said. The district attorney's office will now give public defender agencies the names of those whose bench warrants were just dismissed so people can find out if their cases were among those.

These dismissals are the latest example of the relaxation of marijuana enforcement.

New Yorkers found smoking marijuana in public are no longer subject to arrest as of September 1. Instead, offenders are now issued a summons. New York police said the new policy will reduce the number of marijuana arrests in the city by 10,000 per year.

And as of August 1, the district attorney's office no longer prosecutes marijuana possession and smoking cases, Vance said. It only does so if there were a sale of the drug or a greater public safety risk, such as a violent crime, Vance said.

"When you look at the cohort of individuals who are charged with marijuana offenses, as we did for 2017, of the 5,000 cases that we prosecuted in 2017, only about 200 of those individuals had a prior felony conviction," Vance said. "So this is not a cohort that actually has a history of being violent."

These changes may also address racial disparities.

A six-month national study published by Vance's office in May revealed that black and Hispanics are prosecuted at far higher rates than predominantly white communities.

"The ratio of men and women of color to white individuals prosecuted for this crime in Manhattan is 15 to 1," Vance said. "So we have an impact on these individuals for offenses that, in my opinion and in the opinion of many, the consequence is no longer proportionate to the offense of smoking marijuana."

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