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Manhattan Ends Prosecutions for Marijuana Possession

16 May 2018

"New York's marijuana arrest crusade is causing significant harms to the City's most vulnerable communities and has always been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color", said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. Effective August 1st, my Office will decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases.

Defense lawyers have questioned why the policies under consideration carve out exceptions for people with criminal histories.

Defense lawyers have also expressed concern that giving prosecutors discretion to decide what constitutes a public nuisance would let them continue prosecuting many cases.

Vance said the aim was "a safer NY and a more equal justice system".

Possession of up to 25 grams (less than an ounce) of marijuana is punishable by a US$100 fine on the first offence in NY, rising to US$200 second time around.

The Manhattan DA's office is working with Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NY police commissioner to establish when exceptions to the new policy might be necessary.

NY is one of 29 USA states to have legalized marijuana for medical use to help patients with cancer, HIV, Parkinson's, epilepsy and other conditions.

Also on Tuesday, Police Commissioner James O'Neill said the NYPD will form a 30-day working group to address marijuana-related issues, which will consult several experts, including the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, advocacy organizations, those involved in academics, and attorneys.

Joined by Rev. Al Sharpton, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and various council members are demanding that the NYPD stop arresting people for using marijuana. On Tuesday, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement the office needs "to do more to ensure fairness and trust in our system". "When people's lives are being upended for carrying a small amount of pot, something is wrong with our criminal justice system".

The rates were even worse in Manhattan, where black people were arrested on marijuana charges at 15 times the rate of white people.

The findings follow an article published Sunday at the New York Times that found that over a period of three years, black people in New York were eight times more likely to face arrest for low-level marijuana charges.

"This is not what our city is about", Johnson added.

Brooklyn's late district attorney announced a similar policy in July 2014, saying law enforcement resources could be better used elsewhere and that petty offender should not be saddled with a criminal record for a minor offence. We are here today to say that we have had enough.

"I believe that low-level marijuana cases should be responded to with summonses rather than arrests", Gonzalez said. "There is a clear racial pattern, as it was in stop and frisk".

Manhattan Ends Prosecutions for Marijuana Possession