Manhattan’s district attorney announced his office would largely stop prosecuting people for possession or smoking marijuana in the borough as part of a broader effort to end the wide racial disparity in marijuana prosecutions. District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said the marijuana prosecutions will halt starting Aug. 1, other than in cases where there is a clear public safety concern, which, he predicts, will reduce the yearly marijuana prosecutions in Manhattan from 5,000 to 200.
The move comes after the New York Times published a damning investigation into the stark discrepancy in how the city handles low-level marijuana offenses. “Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years,” the Times found. “Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people.” Many of these arrests are individuals or small groups smoking marijuana, for example, in front of their homes or sitting in cars. Overall, over the past several years, some 87 percent of people arrested for marijuana in New York City are black or Hispanic, a proportion that has largely stayed consistent for decades.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tasked the NYPD on Tuesday with coming up with a plan writ large to reduce marijuana arrests within 30 days. Previously, de Blasio had largely deferred to state law on marijuana enforcement, but took a more aggressive stance in response to the Times investigation. “The N.Y.P.D. will overhaul and reform its policies related to marijuana enforcement in the next 30 days,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “We must and we will end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement.” Brooklyn’s district attorney said he would work with police to reduce marijuana prosecutions to a “very small number” of cases that affect public safety.