The state of New York has become increasingly more progressive towards changing marijuana policies in the last couple of years. As the state contemplates legalizing the personal use and commercial sale of cannabis, a New York District Attorney has made the bold decision to drop 3,042 low-level cannabis cases, which was granted by a criminal court judge. The cases dated back as far as 1978 and were made up of a combination of misdemeanor and violation-level marijuana possession cases, none of which involved violent crimes.
“If anyone was brought in today on one of these warrants, my office would dismiss the case,” Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said. He called the mass dismissal “something that is off-script but actually serves the interests of justice enormously.”
In court, Criminal Judge Kevin McGrath granted the dismissal of these cases and said that they would be sealed in 90 days. The reason for the 90-day period is for administration offices to file any necessary paperwork, which will likely take a while with over 3,000 cases to go through. Many of these people have been waiting for something to come of their case for decades, and some may have even forgotten about the charges.
Since there were no defendants present at the hearing, the district attorney’s office will give public defender agencies the names of those whose warrants were dismissed – that way people can determine if their case was one of those that was dropped.
“You can drive down the West Side Highway at 75 miles an hour, and you’ll get a ticket. but if you are found smoking a marijuana cigarette, you’ll be arrested and put in cuffs” and held for up to 24 hours before going to court, Vance said at a news conference. “The offense, in our opinion, does not justify that level of enforcement.”
Similarly, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced last week a plan that would erase an estimated 20,000 minor marijuana convictions, and Queens DA Richard Brown’s office has said they would be reviewing misdemeanor marijuana possession cases that have yet to be dismissed. This will all help people to stop feeling the negative repercussions of prohibition sooner as the state moves toward new policies.
This comes shortly after New York City made the move toward decriminalizing cannabis – issuing only a court summons if caught smoking cannabis in public. While the state awaits a decision from lawmakers on how best to move forward with recreational cannabis legalization, this is certainly a start.