Patch: Marijuana Use Won't Be Prosecuted In Manhattan, Brooklyn: DAs

Starting Aug. 1 the Manhattan District Attorney's office will decline to prosecute marijuana possession and use cases, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., announced Tuesday.

The district attorney's new policy is expected to reduce the number of annual marijuana-related prosecutions from about 5,000 to about 200 — a drop of 96 percent — the district attorney's office announced. The DA's office will meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD to determine exceptions to its new policy in the coming months.

The new marijuana policy was unveiled Tuesday alongside a report titled "Marijuana, Fairness and Public Safety." The report culminated a six-month study on marijuana policy including interviews with law enforcement officials in jurisdictions that do not prosecute marijuana possession and data analysis.

The DA's report found that black and Hispanic people are arrested for marijuana possession and use at higher rates than white people. The majority of theses arrests occur in neighborhoods of color as opposed to neighborhoods that are predominantly white, according to the report.

"The dual mission of the Manhattan D.A.'s Office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system," Vance said in a statement. "The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals."

In addition to outlining its new policy, the Manhattan DA's report recommends the state move to legalize and regulate cultivation, distribution, sale and use of marijuana in New York.

The majority of marijuana-related arrests do not result in significant prosecutions, which places a burden on the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, according to the district attorneys' report. While the arrests do not bear fruit for law enforcement, they ofter have negative consequences on the arrestee's employment, education and immigration status.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Tuesday that his office began a pilot program to decline prosecuting public use of marijuana in February. Gonzalez said that any cases where the use of marijuana does not create a "public nuisance" will not be prosecuted. In the past, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office has declined to prosecute low-level possession cases.

The Legal Aid Society called the Manhattan District Attorney's new policy "progress," but said that further action must be taken to rectify the inequalities created by the state's past marijuana enforcement policies.

"For too long, black and brown communities have borne the brunt of overzealous marijuana enforcement and the war on drugs," Anthony Posada, supervising attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement.

"Today's announcement from the Manhattan District Attorney is progress, but this issue ultimately falls on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to rectify state-wide. New York State must repeal existing marijuana laws as many other states have done, otherwise New Yorkers will still be subjected to biased enforcement and needless loss of access to student loans, subsidized housing and other public benefits, and, for non-citizens, the risk of detention and deportation."