By Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press
(AP) — Over 3,000 low-level marijuana cases were thrown out this week as Manhattan’s top prosecutor furthered a shift away from arresting and prosecuting many people for small-time marijuana offenses in the nation’s biggest city.
Misdemeanor and violation-level marijuana possession cases that had sat open for as long as 40 years were dismissed in a matter of minutes after Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. asked a court to scrap 3,042 warrants for people who missed court dates and to toss out the cases themselves. He recently decided to stop prosecuting many minor marijuana possession cases and argued it made sense to spare people potential arrests in old ones.
“If anyone was brought in today on one of these warrants, my office would dismiss the case,” the Democrat said. He called the mass dismissal “something that is off-script but actually serves the interests of justice enormously.”
None of the people charged in the cases were there to hear Criminal Court Judge Kevin McGrath wipe them out. Some may long since have forgotten about the cases.
But now they no longer face potential problems getting jobs or housing if the warrants pop up during background checks, or possible arrest if their IDs are checked during otherwise routine interactions with police — after a fender-bender, for instance, or while reporting a crime.
Vance and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced a plan last week that could erase an estimated 20,000 minor marijuana convictions.
“You can drive down the West Side Highway at 75 miles an hour, and you’ll get a ticket . but if you are found smoking a marijuana cigarette, you’ll be arrested and put in cuffs” and held for up to 24 hours before going to court, Vance said at a news conference. “The offense, in our opinion, does not justify that level of enforcement.”
New York City has been easing policing of minor marijuana possession, which spurred more than 50,000 arrests a year as recently as 2011. Last year, there were 17,880, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
A 2014 city policy called for police to issue summonses citing violations, instead of making misdemeanor arrests, for most low-level marijuana possession cases, though not public marijuana smoking. As of Sept. 1, officers also have been directed to issue tickets in most marijuana-smoking cases.
AP Photo-Mary Altaffer