Manhattan Ends Prosecutions for Marijuana Possession

MANHATTAN (CN) – The Manhattan district attorney’s office said Tuesday it will no longer prosecute people for possessing and smoking marijuana, a move that will sharply reduce the low-level criminal charges that overwhelmingly affect black and Hispanic people.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office says it expects that the policy will cut marijuana prosecutions in Manhattan by 96 percent, from 5,000 cases a year to 200.

The policy goes into effect in August. The DA’s office said it might make “limited” exceptions to the new policy if New York City officials voice public safety concerns.

Vance said Tuesday that the move will do away with unnecessary prosecutions that can alienate people in black and Hispanic communities.

“The dual mission of the Manhattan D.A.’s Office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system. The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals,” Vance said in a prepared statement. “We are in discussions with the Mayor and Police Commissioner to consider limited exceptions to this policy, the goal of which is to radically reduce the criminal prosecution of these offenses.”

Vance’s office made the decision on the back of six months of research that culminated in a report released Tuesday titled “Marijuana, Fairness and Public Safety: A Report on the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in the United States.”

The report found that law enforcement targets black and Hispanics at higher rates for low-level marijuana offenses than whites.

The findings follow an article published Sunday at the New York Times that found that over a period of three years, black people in New York were eight times more likely to face arrest for low-level marijuana charges. Hispanics were five times more likely than white people to face arrest. In Manhattan, black people were arrested at 15 times the rate of their white counterparts, the Times reported.

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