Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has dropped 3,042 formerly open cannabis possession and consumption cases. With this motion, warrants will be vacated, and all associated charges dismissed. The cases date back to 1978 and New York Criminal Court Judge Kevin McGrath has already ordered the cases to be sealed within 90 days.
Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance said that their office has developed a new policy consisting of a “decline to prosecute” mentality that essentially orders prosecutors to stop filing any charges against those arrested on minor cannabis violations that mainly stem from small possession amounts and public consumption. The new policy initiative is expected to drop prosecutions by 96 percent and decriminalizes any future similar cases. Vance said that the move to drop these cases was “in the interest of justice” and that “…by vacating these warrants, we are preventing unnecessary future interactions with the criminal justice system.”
The new policy move may not totally be in the interest of justice, however. The Manhattan DA’s office is growing shorter on financial resources to even bring these types of cases to trial. By dropping the backlog of cases, it would be a “burden” that Vance said he would be happy to lose. The DA’s decision to vacate warrants and drop charges doesn’t apply to every open marijuana case, however. It only applies to misdemeanor and violation cases where a warrant was issued because a defendant didn’t appear in court. And it doesn’t apply to anyone charged with selling or distributing cannabis.
This specific move will not be an effort to expunge records pertaining to past convictions as was pointed out by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. Gonzalez just recently announced that he will be starting the process of dismissing tens of thousands of past cannabis convictions. Both Vance and Gonzalez have instructed their offices to also stop prosecuting cases where the defendants are only being accused of possessing small amounts of cannabis. The NYPD has also taken the same stance out in the field. Instead of making an arrest, the NYPD is looking to officers to issue a court summons or “weed ticket” for any scenario of possession or consumption that has no threat to the public’s safety.
Almost 80 percent of the New Yorkers whose warrants will be vacated are minorities. Most of those in that figure were 25 or younger when they were arrested by NYPD. Vacating more than 3,000 warrants does more than eliminating the need for divisive enforcement. It also eliminates many of the knock-down effects of having an open warrant. People with open warrants face difficulties finding housing and jobs and can even have their immigration status revoked.
By Tracy Jerome Chisley (@PoeticPanther)
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