Citing "racial disparities" in enforcement, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has dropped more than 3,000 low-level marijuana cases, many of which were decades old.
"By dismissing these cases, we're removing all of the collateral consequences—for one's job prospects, school attendance, housing applications and immigration status—associated with an open criminal court case," Vance told New York City Criminal Court Judge Kevin McGrath today.
Vance asked McGrath to vacate a total of 3,042 cases, some of them dating back to 1978. According to the DA, nearly 80 percent of the cases dropped involved people of color. "We're taking one small step toward addressing the decades of racial disparities behind the enforcement of marijuana in New York City," he said in court.
As a result, those accused of possessing or using small amounts of marijuana who didn't appear for their court date now won't have to. Alleged violent offenders and weed dealers, as well as those found in possession of large amounts of marijuana, aren't off the hook.
McGrath is sealing the misdemeanors for 90 days, thus giving the district attorney's office enough time to file the correct paperwork to permanently dismiss the charges.
Vance says not only is this the right thing to do, it will also help unclog the courts and his own office. "We have to actually look at what resources we have, what resources the court has," he said.
Though Vance only prosecutes cases in Manhattan, the state as a whole seems to be moving toward legalization of marijuana for recreational use. In a July report, for instance, the New York Department of Health (DOH) recommended legalizing weed. Health officials insisted that the benefits of a "regulated marijuana market" would "outweigh the potential negative impacts," citing economic advantages and the effect legalization would have on the criminal justice system. In 2017, 86 percent of those busted for "marijuana possession in the fifth degree" in the state were "people of color."
Less than a month later, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo put together a "workgroup" to draft legislation based on the DOH report.
In New York City alone, authorities are easing up on enforcement. Starting this month, the New York Police Department will no longer arrest people for smoking weed in public. Most offenders are now given a summons instead.
And in addition to Vance's move to dismiss low-level marijuana cases, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced a plan last week to erase up to 20,000 convictions. In both Brooklyn and Manhattan, prosecutors now decline to press charges in most of these cases.