Starting Wednesday, people who use or possess marijuana in Manhattan will not face prosecution.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. laid out the policy change in a press release Tuesday, announcing his office’s intent to reduce cannabis prosecutions by 96 percent annually in the New York City borough.
“Every day I ask our prosecutors to keep Manhattan safe and make our justice system more equal and fair,” Vance said. “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 “decline to prosecute” policy was distributed to Manhattan district attorneys and the New York Police Department last week, according to the press release.
Our research has found virtually no public safety rationale for prosecuting these cases, and no justification for the underlying racial disparities. pic.twitter.com/wXDxOr3MAf
— Cyrus Vance, Jr. (@ManhattanDA) July 31, 2018
Vance, whose office previously commissioned a report on the effect of legalization in jurisdictions that have enacted it, first announced the new non-prosecution policy in May, and is now putting it into effect.
The move represents yet another localized, marijuana reform effort in the Empire State, where the prospect of full legalization appears increasingly likely. Just last week, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez touted new numbers showing a dramatic reduction in marijuana prosecution cases from January to June 2018.
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office reported that prosecutors accepted 91 percent fewer marijuana cases since the pilot program started.
Prosecuted cases are ⬇️ 91%
Cases that were declined prosecution are ⬆️ 70%
Arrests are ⬇️ 60%
— Eric Gonzalez (@BrooklynDA) July 27, 2018
“Aggressive enforcement and prosecution of personal possession and use of marijuana does not keep us safer, and the glaring racial disparities in who is and is not arrested have contributed to a sense among many in our communities that the system is unfair,” Gonzalez said. “This in turn contributes to a lack of trust in law enforcement, which makes us all less safe.”
“That is why, earlier this year, we expanded our existing non-prosecution policy to include smoking cases.”
Both the Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorney offices stipulated that their “decline to prosecute” policies will not apply in cases where the suspect poses a threat to public health, among other exceptions.
The greening of New York is also evident in recent political developments. For example, the state’s Democratic Party adopted a pro-legalization stance during its May convention.
And as the gubernatorial race has heated up—with incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo facing harsh criticism from his progressive, pro-legalization contender Cynthia Nixon—his administration released a state Health Department report concluding that the pros of marijuana legalization outweigh the cons earlier this month.
The full text of Manhattan’s new policy is below:
Beginning on August, 1, 2018, the Office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases (PL § 221.10(1) and PL § 221.05). Assistant District Attorneys should use the new “DP-Marijuana” template in ACT6 to decline to prosecute an arrest. There are two limited exceptions to this policy. A prosecution may be appropriate in either of the following circumstances:
— Cases against sellers: Examples include observation sales where PL § 221.40 cannot be charged, or possession of large quantities of marijuana individually packaged for sale (10 bags or more).
— Demonstrated public safety threat: A case where there is additional information from the NYPD or from our Office which demonstrates that the individual otherwise poses a significant threat to public safety, and an Office supervisor agrees with that assessment. Examples include a defendant currently under active investigation for a violent offense or other serious crime.
Assistant District Attorneys must state on the record at arraignment that ‘the case falls within one of the limited exceptions to our marijuana policy.