'Legalize It,' says D.A. as He Stops Prosecuting NYC Weed Smokers

Photo Credit: Richard Drew/AP/Shutterstock
August 6, 2018
Updated 2mo ago

By Jacqueline Corba

The Manhattan District Attorney said until marijuana is legal in New York, the best he can do is stop prosecuting people who smoke pot to halt the "unfair" application of a law he said should change.

"Use of marijuana is clearly not going to stop," said the district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr. "So, we need to legalize it."

Vance's office stopped prosecuting marijuana possession this month. The new policy is expected to reduce marijuana prosecutions in the borough from 5,000 a year to fewer than 200.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in June that beginning in September, the police would not arrest most people caught smoking marijuana in public and issue summonses instead.

Vance said de Blasio's policy is a welcome change, but it won't address the "significant racial disparity" in how the laws are applied.

"Clearly, the governor and the mayor are talking about marijuana in a way they weren't a year ago," Vance said. "By our office being active in raising the subject and taking the policy to its furthest, logical safe limit, this is bringing law enforcement to the table."

In a report Vance's office published in May on the fairness and execution of marijuana policy, the D.A. found that 86 percent of those arrested and charged with criminal possession of marijuana in New York last year were people of color.

As part of his research, Vance said his office spent six months talking to officials in states that have legalized marijuana. One day, he said, New York can successfully follow their lead.

"I absolutely believe that if New York State legalizes the sale and possession of marijuana, that will have a big impact on states that are on the fence, and I think that is the right direction," Vance said.

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