Manhattan's district attorney (DA) office will no longer prosecute criminal cases based on no more than possessing or smoking marijuana, effective August 1. The new policy, which was announced in a press release, is expected to reduce marijuana prosecution by 96 percent.
The DA will still prosecute cases involving the sale of marijuana or demonstrated threats to public safety.
"Every day I ask our prosecutors to keep Manhattan safe and make our justice system more equal and fair," said DA Cyrus Vance in the press release. Vance touted a study on marijuana and public safety, which he said 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."
The study revealed that in 2017, black and Hispanic New Yorkers made up 86 percent of marijuana possession arrests; just 9 percent were white. The study also found racial disparities in police responses to marijuana complaints—disparities that it said "become all the more intolerable in light of the fact that they produce no meaningful criminal justice outcome."
"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," Vance concluded. "I urge New York lawmakers to legalize and regulate marijuana once and for all."
Vance's office is also working with public defense organizations to seal past marijuana convictions this fall. As with an expungement, sealing a record will make its contents unavailable to the public. Unlike an expungement, which removes a criminal record altogether, the contents of a sealed record are still accessible by court order.