Four years ago, Brooklyn, the most populous of New York's five boroughs, announced it would no longer prosecute the vast majority of people arrested for pot possession. "The number of arrests in that precinct, the 76th Precinct, were 246 arrests".
The NYPD announced a working group to study charges that there is racial profiling when it comes to NYPD enforcement of marijuana offenses, and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced that as of August 1, his office will no longer prosecute people who are arrested for smoking or possessing marijuana.
Vance said the aim was "a safer NY and a more equal justice system".
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, joined by civil-rights activist Al Sharpton Tuesday at a press conference at City Hall, said prosecutors should stop making pot arrests altogether.
Vance said his office was discussing with New York City police and the mayor what exceptions there should be to the policy.
"I am disappointed that there is racial disparity in arrests, as I have been and was in the leadership on stop-and-frisk, and I want to see it corrected", Sharpton said, responding to a reporter's question about de Blasio's attitude toward the issue.
New York City's police commissioner, James O'Neill, had hinted Monday that he was concerned about the number of people arrested on marijuana charges who had no previous criminal record, the Times reported. The NYPD does this in cases where possession is the most serious charge a person would face, O'Neill said. "We need an honest assessment about why they exist and balance it in the context of the public safety needs of all communities". In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: "Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people".
The DA's office said this creates enormous costs for the legal system and alienates too many people. Arrests can negatively impact job opportunities, schooling and immigration status. Brooklyn already has a similar policy.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, one of few NY politicians who has opposed marijuana legalization, promised to relax police enforcement after facing increasing pressure to address racial disparities in pot arrests.
The NYPD's current marijuana enforcement policy is going up in smoke. "We will await the results of that review", a spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said. The D.A.'s Office "stand [s] ready to advise and assist any participant in the important ongoing discussions about legislative reform of our state's marijuana laws". Some states, like NY, have decriminalized marijuana, making it a violation and not a crime to possess small amounts of cannabis.
NY is one of 29 U.S. states to have legalised marijuana for medical use to help patients with cancer, HIV, Parkinson's, epilepsy and other conditions.