Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance on Tuesday announced that his office will no longer prosecute petty pot crimes, including possession and smoking, effective August 1.
The policy is expected to reduce Manhattan marijuana prosecutions from around 5,000 per year to less than 200 - a reduction of 96%.
"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. I urge New York lawmakers to legalize and regulate marijuana once and for all,” reads the statement.
“The needless criminalization of pot smoking frustrates this core mission, so we are removing ourselves from the equation," Vance said in a Tuesday statement. "Our research has 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 D.A. will also "proactively" work to seal past marijuana convictions "en masse" this Fall.
Vance has based his policy in part on a public safety report which notes that "black and Hispanic individuals in neighborhoods of color continue to be arrested for marijuana offenses at much higher rates than their similarly situated counterparts in predominantly white communities."
"Such arrests can significantly impact job searches, schooling, family members, immigration status, and community involvement. Yet, sanctions imposed after arrest, fingerprinting, and court appearances are almost always minimal or non-existent. “As a result,” the Report concludes, “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 purpose.”
Beginning on August, 1, 2018, the Office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases (PL § 221.10(1) and PL § 221.05). Assistant District Attorneys should use the new “DP-Marijuana” template in ACT6 to decline to prosecute an arrest. There are two limited exceptions to this policy. A prosecution may be appropriate in either of the following circumstances:
— Cases against sellers: Examples include observation sales where PL § 221.40 cannot be charged, or possession of large quantities of marijuana individually packaged for sale (10 bags or more).
— Demonstrated public safety threat: A case where there is additional information from the NYPD or from our Office which demonstrates that the individual otherwise poses a significant threat to public safety, and an Office supervisor agrees with that assessment. Examples include a defendant currently under active investigation for a violent offense or other serious crime.
Assistant District Attorneys must state on the record at arraignment that ‘the case falls within one of the limited exceptions to our marijuana policy.
Sealing Past Marijuana Convictions
In light of the D.A.’s new policy and the decriminalization of marijuana offenses in other states, the D.A.’s Office has been working with public defense organizations and criminal justice stakeholders to proactively seal past marijuana convictions en masse in Fall 2018.
Ending the Prosecution of Low-Level Offenses
Since 2010, D.A. Vance has markedly reduced unnecessary incarceration and collateral consequences in the justice system by ending the prosecution of tens of thousands of low-level offenses annually.
On February 1, 2018, D.A. Vance ended the criminal prosecution of subway fare evasion (known as “turnstile-jumping”), except in limited cases where there is a demonstrated public safety reason to prosecute the offense. In 2017, the D.A.’s Office prosecuted more than 8,000 fare evasion cases. In 2018, following the first six months of the D.A.’s “decline-to-prosecute” policy, Manhattan fare evasion prosecutions are down -96.4%. The D.A.’s policy also contributed to a 90% reduction in arrests for fare evasion in Manhattan. According to the NYPD, transit crime is down -4.51% citywide in 2018.
Marijuana, Fairness and Public Safety: A Report on the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in the United States
As described in the Report’s Executive Summary, “our office has, over the past several months, gathered data and conducted interviews with dozens of prosecutors, regulators, and law enforcement representatives from states that have legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Our purpose was to understand the challenges that will need to be anticipated by lawmakers in our state. This work has yielded valuable insights into how responsibly to frame any future laws and regulations to avoid negative impacts on public safety.” The D.A.’s Office “stand[s] ready to advise and assist any participant in the important ongoing discussions about legislative reform of our state’s marijuana laws.”
The Report further notes that black and Hispanic individuals in neighborhoods of color continue to be arrested for marijuana offenses at much higher rates than their similarly situated counterparts in predominantly white communities. Such arrests can significantly impact job searches, schooling, family members, immigration status, and community involvement. Yet, sanctions imposed after arrest, fingerprinting, and court appearances are almost always minimal or non-existent. “As a result,” the Report concludes, “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 purpose.”
Preexisting Marijuana Policy
Recognizing the racial disparities inherent in enforcement and negative collateral consequences for those charged, District Attorney Vance has vocally advocated for the statutory decriminalization of marijuana possession since 2012. In 2017, D.A. Vance issued one of the most lenient marijuana policies in New York State, under which individuals accused for the first time of smoking in public received a 90-day Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (“ACD”), and those accused for the second time received a 180-day ACD. If these individuals remained arrest-free for the duration of these periods, their cases were dismissed and records were sealed.