In a bold move this week, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance just dropped over 3,000 open cases for marijuana smoking and possession, dating the whole way back to 1978.
In a landmark decision, the District Attorney moved to dismiss 3,042 charges and outstanding warrants spanning 40 years before Judge Kevin McGrath in the New York City Criminal Court. Judge McGrath ordered that the cases must be sealed within 90 days.
DA Vance states that this action would serve justice to the city’s inhabitants and address racial bias in the prosecution of marijuana related offenses.
In an expose by the New York Times, it was discovered that black and Hispanic New Yorkers were eight times more likely to be arrested for smoking marijuana in public than white New Yorkers, despite the fact that marijuana use between the races was more or less equal. The report also revealed that black people were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people for public smoking in Manhattan alone.
Vance stated in court that “By vacating these warrants, we are preventing unnecessary future interactions with the criminal justice system”, and that this decision was made in the interest of justice.
Vance also highlighted the importance of working within the resources of the court and stated that dropping these petty charges would relieve a considerable burden from his office and the court system.
The DA’s decision will only apply to violation and misdemeanor charges, in which a warrant was issued after a defendant failed to appear in court. Cases where a defendant was convicted or charged with a more serious crime like selling marijuana will be upheld.
The decision to drop over 3,000 open cases comes after the DA announced earlier this year that his office would no longer be prosecuting public marijuana smoking and possession offenses.
While marijuana remains illegal in federal law, the state of New York has made important strides in the direction of full legalization. In May of this year, Mayor Bill De Blasio ordered the NYPD to stop arresting people for smoking marijuana in public, after stating that legalization was likely to be introduced in the near future. Anyone caught smoking marijuana in public is now issues with a court summons or “pink slip”, which is the same punishment handed out to anyone found in possession of a small amount of marijuana.