Following in the footsteps of district attorneys in Brooklyn and New Jersey, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced on Tuesday that his department will no longer prosecute cases of pot possession or smoking, according to a press release.
Vance said in the statement that the enforcement of these charges does not make the city safer, and will end immediately:
“Every day I ask our prosecutors to keep Manhattan safe and make our justice system more equal and fair,” said District Attorney Vance. “The needless criminalization of pot smoking frustrates this core mission, so we are removing ourselves from the equation. Our research has found virtually no public safety rationale for the ongoing arrest and prosecution of marijuana smoking, and no moral justification for the intolerable racial disparities that underlie enforcement. Tomorrow, our Office will exit a system wherein smoking a joint can ruin your job, your college application, or your immigration status, but our advocacy will continue. I urge New York lawmakers to legalize and regulate marijuana once and for all.”
The press release promises that the new policy will drop prosecutions for pot-related offenses by 96 percent, from 5,000 a year to 200. Until the time that weed is legal in New York, however, dealers will still be subject to prosecution for “large quantities” of pot.
The DA’s office also promised to seal past convictions for pot possession “en masse” this fall. In other states where weed has been legalized, activists have criticized the lack of action on exonerating those who were charged for drug crimes related to weed in the past, and who are often disproportionately black and Latinx.
New York is behind many other progressive states when it comes to weed laws. Medical pot is still difficult to access in the state, and now that the penalties for possession are almost nonexistent, it’s hard to know why anyone would try to qualify.
Cynthia Nixon, the candidate challenging Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary for New York governor, has made criminal justice reform around drug laws one of her central campaign planks. This may be what pushed Cuomo, who just last year called weed a “gateway drug,” to finally reconsider his stance on the matter.