NYC Could Scrub 40 Years Of Misdemeanor Marijuana Warrants

The records of around 20,000 citizens would be cleaned.

Photo by Chelsea London Phillips via Unsplash

New York has been slow moving on passing progressive cannabis legislation the past few years, but it has recently stepped up its game and the city and state have made some monumental strides. In a telling example, it is expected that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance is getting ready to announce that his office will vacate misdemeanor cannabis warrants dating back to 1978.

In Brooklyn, the D.A. is taking it a step further, offering to vacate low level cannabis convictions, along with the dismissal of underlying charges. These D.A.’s are making historical moves that will literally change lives. Having a warrant or conviction for cannabis, no matter how low level it may be, can mean losing the ability to receive student loans, get a job or even feel comfortable approaching law enforcement for help, fearing prosecution.

It is estimated that in Brooklyn, the records of around 20,000 citizens would be cleaned and ready for a fresh start. The Brooklyn D.A. will also vacate 3,438 warrants at the same time. There is a larger conversation at play however, and that is of a unifying law that would legalize New York as a whole.

As the gubernatorial debate wages on between current Gov. Cuomo and primary candidate Cynthia Nixon, it seems that there is a race to be the most pro-cannabis, with Gov. Cuomo already talking about legalization, going so far as to proactively set up an active group to draft a marijuana legalization bill. Nixon has made her pro-legalization stance clear.

Returning to the happenings in two of NYC’s burroughs, experts in fields ranging from defense attorneys to academics have praised the new initiatives, saying that they are, “a step in the right direction.”

Justine Luongo, the chief of Legal Aid’s criminal defense practice, told the New York Times, “The recognition is that this has to stop. Marijuana is not an issue that should be criminalized.” The executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, Lisa Schreibersdorf said that Mr. Gonzalez’s decision to vacate convictions was “visionary.”

“It will save so many of our clients from deportation, loss of student loans, loss of housing, removal of their children and other very disproportionate outcomes that make no sense,” added Ms. Schreibersdorf. “Of course, New York should legalize marijuana, but in the meantime this is an incredible opportunity…”

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