Beginning August 1st, the Manhattan Distrrict Attorney's Office will decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases, DA Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., has announced.
Vance said the aim was "a safer NY and a more equal justice system".
"The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals", Vance said in a prepared statement. Research has found no good evidence that marijuana arrests are associated with reductions in serious crime in New York City.
Vance said his office was discussing with New York City police and the mayor what exceptions there should be to the policy.
"You look at Breezy Point and the lower part of the Rockaway Peninsula, and there were 113 calls to 311 and 911 but only 22 arrests", Johnson said. "We need an honest assessment about why they exist and balance it in the context of the public safety needs of all communities".
Under the DA's office new policy, people who violate the law would be issued summonses. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, black people were arrested at 15 times the rate of their white counterparts, the Times reported.
Such arrests can significantly impact job searches, schooling, family members, immigration status, and community involvement. As a result, large numbers of New Yorkers become further alienated from law enforcement and removed from community participation at an enormous cost to the criminal justice system, for virtually no punitive, rehabilitative or deterrent objective. There are often no punitive, rehabilitative or deterrent purposes in these cases, the DA said.
"New York's marijuana arrest crusade is causing significant harms to the City's most vulnerable communities and has always been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color", said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Brooklyn's late district attorney announced a similar policy in July 2014, saying law enforcement resources could be better used elsewhere and that petty offenders should not be saddled with a criminal record for a minor offence.
Possession of up to 25 grams (less than an ounce) of marijuana is punishable by a US$100 fine on first offence in NY, rising to US$200 second time around.
DPA is now leading a campaign, Start Smart New York, to pass marijuana legalization in New York, with a focus on racial, social and economic justice. Meanwhile, more and more states are moving toward legalization, and President Donald Trump recently endorsed allowing states to decide how to regulate the drug, which is illegal under federal law.