District attorneys in New York City’s Manhattan and Brooklyn boroughs are weighing plans to stop prosecuting the vast majority of people arrested on marijuana charges, potentially curbing the consequences of a law that in New York City is enforced most heavily against black and Hispanic people, reports the New York Times. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which in 2014 decided to stop prosecuting many low-level marijuana cases, is considering expanding its policy so that more people currently subject to arrest on marijuana charges, including those who smoke outside without creating a public nuisance, would not be prosecuted. The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which last year decided to lighten penalties for some marijuana offenders, also would decline to prosecute the vast majority of low-level marijuana cases, with some exceptions for people with serious criminal histories.
Those changes would amount to a forceful disavowal by two high-profile prosecutors’ offices of criminal penalties for an offense that has been taken off the books in some states and that in New York City is enforced overwhelmingly against blacks and Hispanics. The discussions have been prompted in part by concerns among prosecutors about the continuing racial gap in marijuana arrests. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office has been experimenting for several weeks with declining to prosecute some cases of people arrested for smoking in public. Prosecutors in Manhattan have been studying jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana. Of the more than 5,000 people arrested on low-level marijuana charges in Manhattan last year, only 100 to 200 would have been prosecuted under the plan being considered. Police Commissioner James O’Neill hinted on Monday that he was already re-evaluating marijuana arrests. He said at a City Council hearing that more than a third of the people arrested on low-level marijuana charges last year had no previous criminal record.