New York City officials are taking a more permissive stance on marijuana use within the city, citing both racial concerns and a shift in public sentiment as the primary reasons.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced the new policy, which will take effect in August and drastically reduce the number of prosecutions for marijuana possession and use.
“The dual mission of the Manhattan D.A.’s office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system,” Vance wrote. “The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals.”
Instead, he said his office will only pursue charges against defendants facing marijuana-related criminal counts if they “demonstrated public safety concerns.”
Under the new directives, he said Manhattan marijuana prosecutions will drop dramatically from about 5,000 annually to just 200.
Across New York City, marijuana arrests have been on the decline since Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected in 2014. At the time, he was running on a platform that included giving suspects court summonses rather than arresting them for most marijuana offenses.
On the same day as Vance’s announcement, de Blasio expressed similar concerns during remarks he made in the nation’s capital.
“We must and we will end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement,” he told the left-leaning Center for American Progress this week.
Within the next month, de Blasio has pledged to further revamp the city’s approach to enforcing marijuana laws.
The move has received support from Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who said his office will work in tandem with the mayor’s office to determine a “very small number” of such charges that warrant criminal prosecution.
While the state has thus far resisted a growing trend of marijuana legalization outside of strict medical applications, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently suggested that the “facts have changed” surrounding the commonly used drug.
The Democratic governor’s apparent softening on the issue comes as actress Cynthia Nixon attempts to challenge him in a primary election as a candidate squarely to his left on multiple issues, including law enforcement.
The “Sex and the City” star is pushing for legalization of marijuana as part of her racial justice platform.
“We have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity,” she said in a recent campaign video.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand recently expressed support for legalization of marijuana in a tweet. The New York Democrat shared statistics that show blacks and Latinos in her state are 10 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana violations despite relatively consistent rates of use among all three races.
Black and Latino people in NYC are arrested at TEN times the rate of white people for virtually the same rate of marijuana usage. Along with @CoryBooker and @SenSanders, I’m cosponsoring a bill to legalize and decriminalize marijuana. Raise your voices and join us in this fight.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) April 20, 2018
Cuomo took a different view, citing the increasing number of states adopting more permissive laws.
“You have states that have legalized it now,” he said. “It is no longer a question of legal or illegal.”
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