In a move said to be aimed at reducing racial disparities in weed prosecutions, the district attorney’s office in Manhattan, New York City’s largest borough, will no longer file charges against defendants in most marijuana possession and smoking cases, the DA’s office announced on Tuesday.
In a statement, the DA said it will allow room for “limited exceptions” related to public safety, but is expected to reduce weed prosecutions from about 5,000 a year down to 200.
Not a moment too soon.
The New York Timesreported on Sunday that black and Hispanic residents are significantly more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than their white counterparts, even in predominately white neighborhoods and even in view of the fact everyone proportionally smokes the same amount of weed.
Of the more than 5,000 people arrested on low-level weed charges in Manhattan last year, only 100 to 200 of them would have been prosecuted under the plan that is now being considered, a city official told the NY Times. And, a third of the people arrested on low-level marijuana charges last year had no previous criminal record, noted the New York City police commissioner, James P. O’Neill.
The policy change in New York City becomes effective on August 1.
It also looks like the Brooklyn DA’s office is considering a similar move, according to a report in Monday’s NY Times.
What about the mayor?
New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio says he is considering policy changes that would cut down on marijuana arrests.
“If the disparity continues, it’s not acceptable,” de Blasio said in an interview with Spectrum News NY1. “We’ve got to look at the whole realm of policy options.”
DAs in a number of other jurisdictions, including Seattle, San Francisco, and Oakland, California, are also pushing to have marijuana-related convictions removed from the records of thousands of offenders.