As New York City police and some district attorneys move toward a softer approach on enforcing low-level marijuana offenses, through the year the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office has dramatically reduced the number of cases in which it pursued criminal charges for marijuana offenses.
According to a news release from the Brooklyn DA, in June, the office pursued criminal charges in 29 cases of low-level marijuana possession and smoking in public, down from 349 in January.
In the same timeframe, arrests for those offenses also declined sharply, from 425 to 168.
In the release, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez said that a heavy-handed approach to low-level marijuana violations tends to breed mistrust for law enforcement.
“Aggressive enforcement and prosecution of personal possession and use of marijuana does not keep us safer, and the glaring racial disparities in who is and is not arrested have contributed to a sense among many in our communities that the system is unfair,” Gonzalez said.
The release states that Gonzalez’s office is also working on a new program to vacate and seal old marijuana offenses.
The Brooklyn DA’s Office began moving away from prosecuting low-level marijuana possession cases in 2014, under the late Kenneth Thompson.
But the policy change was not immediately followed by a drastic shift in enforcement. Last year, citing data from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, WNYC reported that the office prosecuted 82 percent of arrests for marijuana violations, down from 90 percent in 2014.
This year, the Brooklyn DA’s Office launched a pilot program to stop prosecuting toking up in public in most cases, though the office still prosecutes smokers who pose a threat to public safety—for example, in cases where someone is smoking marijuana while driving.
Last month, the New York City Police Department announced that it would issue tickets for smoking in public rather than making arrests, and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has announced that, starting next month, his office would stop prosecuting both low-level possession and smoking in public cases.