New York City to stop arresting people for low-level marijuana offenses

Manhattan District Attorney Will No Longer Prosecute Minor Marijuana Cases

Noting the racial disparity of marijuana arrests, the Manhattan DA's office said Tuesday that "large numbers of New Yorkers become further alienated from law enforcement and removed from community participation at an enormous cost to the criminal justice system, for virtually no punitive, rehabilitative or deterrent goal".

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said that starting on August 1, he will decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases. "Since 2014, the Brooklyn DA's Office has led the way in declining to prosecute marijuana possession cases, resulting in a 75 percent decline in arrests citywide and confirming that such policy does not adversely affect public safety".

According to a story published on Sunday by the New York Times, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges in the city at eight times the rate of white people over the last three years, despite almost identical usage rates.

Federal statistics show similar rates of marijuana use among whites, blacks and Hispanics, but about 87 percent of people arrested for pot in New York City are black or Hispanic.

The Times also debunked the NYPD explanation for the disparities, which the police attribute to more 311 and 911 complaints in certain neighborhoods. On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the New York Police Department will unveil a plan within 30 days to drastically reduce arrests for marijuana possession.

"We must and we will end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement", de Blasio said at a conference of the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

Police Commissioner James O'Neill said the department was putting together a working group to review the policy.

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The rates were even worse in Manhattan, where black people were arrested on marijuana charges at 15 times the rate of white people. The Drug Policy Alliance & Marijuana Arrest Research Project published findings that relayed a startling number of marijuana arrest in the city, all taking up far too much space and energy in the crowded system. "We need an honest assessment about why they exist, and balance it in the context of the public safety needs of all communities".

In the Bronx, DA Darcel Clark urged the NYPD in a statement Tuesday to issue criminal court summonses "during stops for public use and possession of marijuana to address the public safety and community concerns". In contrast, the precinct covering Breezy Point and Rockaway Park had 113 calls, but only 22 arrests.

More and more Democrats in NY have thrown their support behind full legalization of marijuana, though de Blasio still opposes it.

"The grandchild of stop and frisk is marijuana arrests based on race", Sharpton said.

The state Democratic Party expected to formally back legalization, and Gov. Cuomo, who has opposed it, said moves by surrounding states to legalize have changed the equation.

"We have to do better, there's no question about it", he said. However, these days it's becoming legal in some states.

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