A major investigation by the New York Times found continued racial disparities in marijuana enforcement and arrests in every neighborhood in the City. A disproportionate number of those arrested were minorities.
The Manhattan district attorney's office said Tuesday it will no longer prosecute people for possessing and smoking marijuana, a move that will sharply reduce the low-level criminal charges that overwhelmingly affect black and Hispanic people. Effective August first, my Office will decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, joined by civil-rights activist Al Sharpton Tuesday at a press conference at City Hall, said prosecutors should stop making pot arrests altogether.
"The NYPD will overhaul and reform its policies related to marijuana enforcement in the next 30 days", he said but did not elaborate.
"You look at Breezy Point and the lower part of the Rockaway Peninsula, and there were 113 calls to 311 and 911 but only 22 arrests", Johnson said.
Discussions were ongoing to consider "limited exceptions" to the policy. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. "We need an honest assessment about why they exist and balance it in the context of the public safety needs of all communities".
O'Neill said NYPD officers should not make arrests that don't impact public safety. In Manhattan, black people were arrested at 15 times the rate of their white counterparts, the Times reported.
"Such arrests can significantly impact job searches, schooling, family members, immigration status, and community involvement", the DA said.
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The DA's office said this creates enormous costs for the legal system and alienates too many people.
CNN reached out to the offices of district attorneys in other boroughs to see whether they are considering similar measures.
I'm announcing today that the NYPD will overhaul its marijuana enforcement policies in the next 30 days.
"New York's marijuana arrest crusade is causing significant harms to the City's most vulnerable communities and has always been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color", said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We will await the results of that review", a spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said.
The change comes as New York State moves toward potentially legalizing marijuana.
NY is one of 29 USA states to have legalised marijuana for medical use to help patients with cancer, HIV, Parkinson's, epilepsy and other conditions.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who referred to marijuana as a "gateway drug" less than a year ago, now plans to form a panel to study its legalization.