- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2018

Statistics released by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office suggest New York City has nearly stopped prosecuting marijuana cases since decriminalizing public use and possession Aug. 1.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said Thursday that prosecutors arraigned 168 marijuana cases during the first 90 days of the new pot policies taking effect, or nearly 87 percent fewer than the 1,246 initiated during that same 90-day span in 2017.

Prosecutors arraigned 28 marijuana cases in all of Oct. 2018, down 94 percent compared to 12 months earlier, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. noted in a social media post touting the numbers.

“We have exited the marijuana business,” Mr. Vance, a Democrat, said on Twitter. “Now it’s time for New York State to legalize, regulate and expunge.”

Mr. Vance had instructed the New York City Police Department to stop arresting people caught merely possessing small amounts of marijuana or smoking the plant in public effective Aug. 1, and he previously said officials intend to proactively seal the past convictions of individuals previously arrested for related offenses.

Blacks and Hispanics made up about 86 percent of the roughly 17,000 people arrested by the NYPD last year for low-level marijuana offenses, according to the state’s own statistics, illustrating what Mr. Vance previously called an unjustifiable and intolerable racial disparity he hoped to remedy with the rule change.

“Every day I ask our prosecutors to keep Manhattan safe and make our justice system more equal and fair,” he said prior to the policy taking effect. “The needless criminalization of pot smoking frustrates this core mission, so we are removing ourselves from the equation.”

Of the 168 marijuana cases arraigned during the first 90 days of the new policy, 145 were either ultimately dismissed or adjourned, according to the district attorney’s office. Seventeen of the remaining marijuana cases were prosecuted under an exemption that allows police to arrest individuals who demonstrate a threat to public safety, five were prosecuted under an exemption that applies to suspected drug dealers and one was joined to another pending case, the office said.

Despite the clear decline in marijuana cases, activists said the racial disparity has hardly disappeared, however. Court Watch NYC, a legal advocacy group, said in a report of its own Thursday that drug prosecutions in New York City continue to disproportionately target Black and Hispanic people regardless of the rule change, citing a recent study of over 233 cases pending in local court.

“What remains clear is that the system is racist,” the report said.

New York is among the 31 states to pass laws permitting the use of medical marijuana, albeit not the nine with legislation in place allowing recreational, or “adult use” marijuana.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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