As he navigates the controversy surrounding the sex and abuse scandals involving Harvey Weinstein and former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Vance announced Tuesday that starting August 1 he will no longer prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases unless they demonstrate public safety concerns.
The Manhattan district attorney's office, which previous year chose to lighten penalties for some marijuana offenders, would decline to prosecute all but several hundred low-level marijuana cases annually under the plan, with some exceptions for people with serious criminal histories, a second official said.
According to one analysis by the DA's office, the policy is expected to reduce marijuana prosecutions by 96 percent. "The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals".
Last year, 86 percent of people arrested for low-level marijuana possession in the city were black and Hispanic, while less than 9 percent of those arrested were white, according to figures from the City Council.
In a speech to progressive groups in Washington, D.C., de Blasio said the NYPD would "overhaul and reform" its marijuana policies in the next 30 days, but did not provide details.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez also announced Tuesday he would expand his office's efforts to not prosecute marijuana cases.
Joined by Rev. Al Sharpton, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and various council members are demanding that the NYPD stop arresting people for using marijuana.
O'Neill's announcement comes a day after he said the department is "addressing" a disparity in marijuana-related enforcement affecting minority New Yorkers during a City Council budget hearing.
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We have been taught that marijuana is a "gateway" drug and that early use can predict future problems. That brought down the number of arrests significantly, but the racial gap persisted. "When people are being forced to miss work or miss out on time with their family over a low level marijuana arrest, something is very wrong with our public policy".
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. "We must and we will end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement - it's time for those to be a thing of the past, in New York City and all over this country".
After being elected mayor, de Blasio announced a new policy of cannabis decriminalization, in which anyone caught with under 25 grams of pot would be receive a summons rather than be arrested.
The D.A.'s Office today released a report "Marijuana, Fairness and Public Safety: A Report on the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in the United States" publicizing its findings, which helped to inform the Office's new policy.
In his speech Tuesday, de Blasio promised changes were coming.
"The NYPD does not target people based on race or other demographics", Commissioner James O'Neill said Tuesday. "We need an honest assessment about why they exist, and balance it in the context of the public safety needs of all communities".
To address the disparity, city leaders are calling for full marijuana legalization on a state level.