New York District Attorney Throws Out Decades of Cannabis Cases

New York officials are changing their attitude toward cannabis possession persecution in the city and made major strides as over low-level 3,000 cannabis cases were thrown out yesterday in Manhattan, New York.

Recently, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. requested that 3,042 warrants for people who had missed cannabis-related court summons and their related cases were to be thrown out in court.

“If anyone was brought in today on one of these warrants, my office would dismiss the case,” said Vance Jr.  He called the mass dismissal “something that is off-script but actually serves the interests of justice enormously.” Warrants from as far as 40 years ago, including misdemeanor and violation-level cannabis cases, were thrown out Wednesday by the district attorney’s request. Months ago, the Manhattan D.A. stated he would stop prosecuting low-level cannabis cases, citing the racial disparity in arrests.

An article in  The New York Times showed the radical differences in arrest records between blacks, Hispanics and whites. For instance, blacks were arrested eight times more in New York City than white people, and 15 more times more likely in Manhattan. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted out in May, “In New York City, we’ve proven you can radically reduce arrests while also reducing crime. But we must go further and get fairer, particularly when it comes to disparity in arrests.” Since 2014, city policy has called for summonses citing violations and, more recently, handing out tickets for most small-time cannabis offenses.

In Brooklyn, D.A. Eric Gonzalez may be able to clear about 20,000 open warrants that stemmed from summons and is encouraging people with misdemeanor arrests cleared.

“We must remember those who have convictions on their record based on these cases that we are no longer going to prosecute,” Gonzalez said last week in a news conference. “To fail to address these past convictions would be hypocritical and would be to turn a blind eye on all the harm caused by marijuana enforcement in prior years.”

The warrants were for people who missed court dates, and with the outstanding warrants they risked being arrested after benign actions such as reporting a crime or undergoing background checks.

“They are living with the peril of being put through the system for almost no reason,” said Carolyn Wilson, director of New York County Defender Services.

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