Progressive Policy Change In New York City

In a surprise joint press conference, Cyrus Vance Jr. and Eric Gonzalez, the respective District Attorneys of Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City, both announced that with limited exception low-level marijuana-related offenses would no longer be prosecuted.  Both cited a six-month-long study that revealed that there was no discernible impact upon issues of public health and safety by ending the prosecution of these minor cannabis offenses.  The positive side of this new policy is the discontinuance of the persecution of communities predominated by people of color who have been disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for these low-level cannabis offenses.  As such, both District Attorneys publicly vowed that as of August 1, 2018, they would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana possession and consumption cases.    The talismanic significance of that delayed date is unknown as New York City needs this program implemented now, not weeks from now.

This new approach comes on the heels of past mayoral pledges that sought to relax enforcement policies.  Until recent years, an individual caught smoking marijuana was required to be arrested and processed through the system resulting in criminal misdemeanor charges. Often the amount of time elapsing between arrest and arraignment would be anywhere from 12-24 hours or more before a defendant would be produced before the court to answer the charges.  Many of those charged with a cannabis misdemeanor would nonetheless have their cases effectively dismissed by moving under the Penal Law for an “ACD” which meant that the defendant’s case would be adjourned in contemplation of dismissal provided that they not be rearrested during a 6-month post-arraignment period.  The costs for in man hours and salaries to pursue even a single soon to be dismissed arrest was staggering.

Under Mayors Bloomberg and DeBlasio the process was significantly truncated where an individual would be arrested and processed at the police precinct and released with a “DAT” which was a desk appearance ticket advising the defendant to show up in court on a particular day in the future and answer the charges. Those DAT cases most often resulted in ACD status meaning that there was no criminal conviction for the defendant and the arrest would be stricken from their record after the probationary period of time.  But, it appears that prosecution approach was not equally applied to people of color who were still disproportionately arrested and given DATs even though the statistics show that marijuana use is relatively equal across all ethnicities.  It is this continued evident disparity that has prompted the pronouncement of the District Attorneys.

In a subsequent interview with a reporter at NY-1 news station, Cyrus Vance Jr., the DA for Manhattan, stated in sum and substance that the criminal prosecution of cannabis was essentially futile because there was no further intervention by the legal system which would otherwise admonish or assist the criminal defendant who’s case would eventually be dismissed in any event.

Under the new policy, the individual arrested would be issued a summons for a violation which is not a crime and the punishment being a monetary fine and/or a maximum of 15 days in jail rather than the 1 year period for a criminal misdemeanor conviction for cannabis.

While this is definitely a positive development it still waits to be seen if this new policy is applied more fairly and equally regarding people of color.  As the goal of the violation is for the city to not to continue to incur the expenses of futile criminal prosecutions, it is the goal of the city by means of violations to fill its coffers with monies collected from fines.  These are monies that would not otherwise be collected during the course of a criminal prosecution resulting in an ACD.

It will only be a matter of time to review the statistics to determine if people of color are finally be treated more fairly and equally in the newly proclaimed cannabis friendly administrations.

David Holland, Esq is the Executive and Legal Director of Empire State NORML in New York. You can visit their website by clicking here and follow them on Facebook and Twitter


27 thoughts

  1. Aww CRAP! TWO weeks after my vacation through NYC? What’s the hold up? The NYPD has to clean out their evidence room before the pile looks suspicious?

    Ok, that was selfish. This is great news… even though we should lobby the DA’s and vet candidates to make sure there is NO arrest record. But still, it’s better than what we have been doing, which is utterly destroying the lives of the impoverished and people of color.

    I wonder if what’s going on in the NJ legislature has anything to do with this? More of a foreshadowing of a domino effect…

      1. Dain, this what I gleaned from the article:

        “Under the new policy, the individual arrested would be issued a summons for a violation which is not a crime and the punishment being a monetary fine and/or a maximum of 15 days in jail rather than the 1 year period for a criminal misdemeanor conviction for cannabis.”

    1. Still trying to figure out if 15 days in jail is current policy or Aug 1 policy.

      If the D.A. will no longer prosecute, why allow the cop to arrest in any circumstance?

      1. The point of legalization is to stop the arrests. Stopping the prosecutions is fine; but if there will be no prosecution, why should there be an arrest? What crime? A non-prosecutable crime worth 15 days in the slammer?

        How is that not legalized police abuse of civil rights?

      2. My concern is people who can’t afford a lawyer could end up locked up for more than 15 days if the case never gets picked up by the DA’s office.

        Someone who can afford a good lawyer is going to get busted and give the Chief of Police a real headache.

      3. Right, good point, Julian; and it sucks that it might take something like that potential celebrity arrest (shit flowing uphill) to bring enough attention to the matter to close that loophole.

        The blog article is a tad ambiguous. And, I may have misread it.

        But, I am in no way criticizing the D.A.’s office. I applaud the move.

        I’m no expert here, but I assume it now falls to NYPD to get a clue and stop wasting taxpayer’s money — and oh yeah, fuckers, stop “wasting” (as in shooting) taxpayers themselves!

  2. heard about this, and Stringer was on cnbc the other day…awesome work!
    Also, marijuana beer and wine ban passed here in MI today….so stupid, Rick Jones the dinosaur former cop. GREAT to hear about NY, though, NY will be THE TURNING POINT state.

  3. and check out OH! Legalization for 2019? VERY LIKELY. Prohibition walls coming tumbling down!

  4. Citizens of a Republic should not be subject to an oppressive regime making cannabis arrests that are contrary to a super majority of public opinion. There are those who act as “Rulers” in the interests of corrupt special interests; and then there are honorable public servants who endeavor to benefit the citizenry. The District Attorneys mentioned get my respect for having integrity in this decision.

    I think that poorer people often have less opportunity for privacy while smoking cannabis and get arrested more. To live and let live would be a good choice for everyone involved.

    1. We live in a class society defined by race and wealth. But the rich say, “Our society is equal and fair, since both the rich and the poor alike have the very same right to sleep under a bridge, and to eat from a garbage can.”

      1. Yeah, that’s a quote, more or less. You can look it up if you want to.

  5. Yawn, lets just cut the BS and get to the obvious point. Legalization is the answer, nearly 1/5 of the country has realized that. NYC is behind the times.

    1. Anon, I am convinced that the residual resistance to talking openly about marijuana legalization is a corporate-induced taboo.

      Those of you who work in marijuana-legal states will see it in your employers’ culture and policies. Marijuana is still a taboo subject! But why? There can be no valid justification for that.

      Who the fuck is some soulless corporate entity to tell me what to think or say, anyway? Fuck that shit! They can bite me.

      1. The Corporate Cult.

        We’re all in it. And, like the Moonies in Jonestown, once you’re in, it’s very difficult to get out. So difficult, in fact,that it is easier to just go along to get along, and chug your cup of cyanide-laced Koolaid when it is presented to you.

        Marijuana consumers, come out of the closet.

        Let your employers know who’s life it is. If you are not willing to put marijuana first before your job, you will always be a Moonie, because your corporate cult will always own you.

        Time to tell the “boss” who’s boss.

      2. If we let Corporate America tell us what we must and must not put into our bodies, then we are all just one dictatorial decree away from a nice tall glass of cyanide.

  6. NY state legalizing will be, like Vegas, Seattle, Cali…..the blow to Prohibition that rocks the WORLD. HUGE gain.

    1. but yes, big states like Texas, Florida…nation of Canada, others as well are huge, too
      or Federal changes

  7. When I saw a young black man in Ferguson holding up a sign that says “black lives matter,” I understood what that meant. He was telling white society “stop gunning us down in the streets AS IF black lives DID NOT matter.” With emphasis.

    White folks who can’t hear that without saying “all lives matter” need a lobotomy. They can see the paint on the cardboard sign, they can read the words and make a sentence, but they willfully fail to comprehend.

    “Black lives matter,” before it is a movement, is a statement of fact.

    And that’s got everything to do with marijuana prohibition and law enforcement. The War on Drugs is a war on people. You cannot war against a drug, that is literally meaningless.

    But which people? This is a war pitting Americans against Americans. When we War on Drugs, which Americans are we warring against?

    Well, the NRA isn’t afraid to go there: Black Americans. Liberal, white, pot-smoking n-loving Americans. Brownish, ethnic-looking Americans. (“Hey, what the fuck, Man… I’m Hawaiian!”)

    Consider the converse: if black lives don’t matter, then no lives matter.

    1. Yes. If you want decrim or cite and release (preferably with no arrest) in your city or county you need to vet your local candidates for County Attorney, District Attorney and Sherrif on marijuana policy BEFORE they get elected.

  8. So, it reads as if a person may or may not pay a fine. If they can not for any reason pay the fine they will spend some time in jail. Somewhere between 1 sec and 15 days.

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