Manhattan DA dismisses 4,503 marijuana cases

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., this week appeared virtually in Manhattan Criminal Court and moved to dismiss 4,503 marijuana cases, preventing unnecessary future contacts with the criminal justice system, eliminating the collateral consequences associated with having an open marijuana case, and empowering New Yorkers to interact with law enforcement without fear of arrest or deportation.

The motion follows the D.A.’s Office’s 2018 en masse dismissal of 3,042 cases after the enactment of its “Decline-to-Prosecute” policy for marijuana possession and smoking.

“Dismissing marijuana cases en masse is an important step toward addressing the decades of racial disparities behind marijuana enforcement in New York City,” said Vance. “But Albany must not delay in implementing its promises to legalize marijuana in New York State. Legal sales for adult use – not just decriminalization – are necessary to stymie illicit markets operating without regulatory controls, address discriminatory enforcement, and meaningfully advance social justice.”

In 2018, the D.A.’s Office dismissed all 3,042 cases available in its records dating back to 1978, wherein the only remaining charge was marijuana possession or smoking under PL 221.10(1), a class B misdemeanor, or PL 221.05, a violation.

Vance appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court to dismiss an additional 4,503 cases, including 1,794 Criminal Court cases and 2,709 Summons cases ranging from violations to E felonies.

Judge John Z. Wang granted D.A. Vance’s motion to vacate the underlying bench warrants and dismiss the cases en masse.

In moving to dismiss the cases, Vance said, “As Your Honor has said, we are here today to address the more than 4,000 open Criminal Court bench warrants for marijuana possession and sale under, now repealed, Penal Law 221. The decriminalization of these marijuana offenses marks an important change in our law and one that I have advocated for over the past several years. It is a step toward addressing the decades of racial disparities inherent in enforcement of this law and negative collateral consequences stemming from those charges."

"It is our experience that outstanding warrants for these low-level cases drive law enforcement and our communities apart: New Yorkers with warrants face unnecessary loss of employment, housing, and immigration consequences, and because they fear that they will be arrested for an open warrant, they sometimes are reluctant to collaborate with the NYPD and District Attorneys," said Vance. "That undermines public safety. By vacating these warrants, we are also preventing unnecessary future interactions with the criminal justice system."

Repeal of New York’s marijuana law and dismissal of the cases removes the adverse consequences for job prospects, school attendance, housing applications, and immigration status for those charged with a criminal offense.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal ordered prosecutors to drop cases for cannabis-related offenses in February.

Grewal also issued separate guidance for police on how to proceed under the updated laws.

However, the law signed by Governor Phil Murphy still provides up to 20 years in prison for possession of marijuana despite a two-thirds majority of New Jersey voters approval of a ballot measure legalizing cannabis.

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