Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance ushered in a refurbished policy that will allegedly end criminal prosecution of marijuana, including possession and burning in the borough of Manhattan. However, this is not Manhattanites’ first time around the decriminalization block.
Vance’s “new” policy revelation a new policy that will supposedly remarkably reduce marijuana prosecutions on the tiny, 13.4 mile (21.6 km) long by 2.3 mile (3. 7 km) wide island that houses over 1.665 million people.
According to a statement from Vance’s office, decriminalization would account for a significant drop in Manhattan’s marijuana prosecution cases per year.
“Every day I ask our prosecutors to keep Manhattan safe and make our justice system more equal and fair,” Vance said. “The needless criminalization of pot smoking frustrates this core mission, so we are removing ourselves from the equation.”
Additionally, Vance said that data mined by his office shows “virtually no public safety rationale” for marijuana arrests and ensuing prosecution, whether for possessing the plant or for public consumption, referred to as “burning.”
In 2014, the city made a legal differentiation between ‘using marijuana’ and ‘burning marijuana.’
In March 2018 the NYPD’s chief of crime control strategies, Dermot Shea, told a captivated and incredulous City Council board that since 2014, 90 percent of arrests for marijuana are for ‘burning,” and it ostensibly was the primary cause of racial disparities in marijuana arrests.
Burning was a misdemeanor punishable by a $250 fine and up to 90 days in jail.
Vance’s announcement vanquishes burning arrests. However, it is still somewhat confusing, considering that in New York City — all five boroughs including Manhattan — possession was already decriminalized over four decades ago, in 1977. Possession of up to 25 grams of cannabis may have resulted in a $100 violation (similar to a traffic ticket) for a first offense. A second offense was $200, and a third offense was $250 and a possible 15-day stint in jail.
In 2017, 18,525 people were arrested for cannabis-related offenses in New York City.
Vance used the opportunity while announcing the updated marijuana policy in Manhattan, to explain that being caught with a personal amount of pot is no longer an albatross in young people’s lives or a career killer.
“Tomorrow, our office will exit a system wherein smoking a joint can ruin your job, your college application, or your immigration status, but our advocacy will continue,” Vance says in the statement. “I urge New York lawmakers to legalize and regulate marijuana once and for all.”
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Even though possession was decriminalized decades ago, Chief Shea explained away consistent upticks in possession arrests by insisting that possession of cannabis was being committed in conjunction with other crimes. However, he provided no data or proof to support this claim in repeated City Council hearings.
Starting in September, the NYPD will allegedly no longer arrest most individuals who are caught burning and will issue them summonses instead, unless, they are caught smoking while committing additional crimes.
Exceptions to the new guidelines are cases where pot is being sold or is the underlying cause of a threat to public safety.