Manhattan’s DA's office will dismiss more than 3,000 cannabis-related cases

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Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance dropped more than 3,000 cannabis-related cases on Wednesday in New York City Criminal Court. This is an act he said will both serve justice and address the role that race has played in prosecuting marijuana cases.

There are 3,042 cases dating back as far 1978 that have been dismissed and include misdemeanors and violation cases in which a warrant was issued because the defendant did not appear in court. They do not include violent offenses or cases where the defendant was convicted, according to Vance.

Vance announced earlier this year that the Manhattan DA’s office would no longer prosecute cannabis possession or smoking cases as of August 1 as a part of a nationwide movement to legalize cannabis and become more lenient on its use. Additionally, those found smoking publicly in New York are no longer subject to arrest as of September 1.

Manhattan District Attonrey Cyrus Vance speaks to the press after a hearing in New York City Criminal Court. He successfully asked for the court to drop more than 3,000 open cannabis-related cases. 

“Outstanding warrants for these low-level cases drive law enforcement and our communities apart,” Vance said. “New Yorkers with warrants face unnecessary loss of employment, housing and immigration consequences, and because many of them fear they will be arrested for an open warrant, they don’t collaborate with the (New York Police Department) and district attorneys to keep our communities safe.”

The dismissal of the cases was granted by Criminal Court Judge Kevin McGrath. He said that cases must be sealed in 90 days, which will allow adequate time for administration to properly file the paperwork. 

“When you look at the cohort of individuals who are charged with marijuana offenses as we did for 2017, of the 5,000 cases that we prosecuted in 2017, only about 200 of those individuals had a prior felony conviction,” Vance said. “So this is not a cohort that actually has a history of being violent.”

Earlier this year, Vance’s office published the findings of a national study which found that black and Hispanics are prosecuted at much higher rates than in largely white communities. It is his hope that dismissing these cases and by no longer prosecuting non-violent, cannabis-related cases will also address racial disparity.

“The ratio of men and women of color to white individuals prosecuted is 15 to 1,” said Vance. “So we have an impact on these individuals for offenses that, in my opinions and in the opinion of many, the consequence is no long proportionate to the offense of smoking marijuana.”

The district attorney’s office will give the names of those whose bench warrants have been dismissed to the public defender agencies so people can find out if their case is among those dismissed.

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