Corey Johnson and Al Sharpton

Juliet Papaaaaaaa/WCBS 880

Movements To Decriminalize And Legalize Marijuana Gather Steam

May 15, 2018 - 12:21 pm

NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- Marijuana laws in New York state are in the spotlight with a new report about who's getting arrested in the city adding fuel to a movement to legalize pot for recreational use.

The Rev. Al Sharpton joined by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Tuesday to call for the decriminalization of marijuana following a report in the New York Time that found a disproportionate number of African Americans and Hispanics are being arrested.

"We're saying stop arresting for smoking and instead handle it the same way you handle possession," Johnson said.

And that would be to issue a summons, 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reported.

Sharpton is lobbying for a reduction in street stops.

"Now the grandchild of stop-and-frisk is marijuana arrest based on race," Sharpton said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio at a conference in Washington announced the NYPD will reform its policies in the next 30 days.

The Times said both the Manhattan and Brooklyn district attorneys are weighing plans to stop prosecuting the vast majority of those arrested on marijuana charges. Four years ago, the Brooklyn DA's office decided to stop prosecuting many low-level marijuana cases. Last year, the Manhattan DA decided to ease penalties for some offenders.

In a news release Tuesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said beginning Aug. 1, his office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases.

“The dual mission of the Manhattan DA’s Office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system,” Vance said in the news release. “The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals.”

Meanwhile, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement that he believes low-level marijuana offenses should be responded to with summons rather than arrests. He said racial disparities in arrests are “intractable and unacceptable,” and more must be done to ensure fairness and trust in the system.

“Three months ago we began a pilot program in which we declined to prosecute some instances of smoking marijuana in public where a public nuisance was not created, doubling the number of cases we declined to prosecute. In the coming weeks, we will work with the Police Department and the Mayor to identify the very small number of exceptions that raise public safety concerns, and any case that does not fall within these exceptions will no longer be prosecuted,” Gonzalez said in the statement.

Late Tuesday afternoon, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill announced the formation of a 30-day department working group to review marijuana enforcement. It will be composed of a cross-section of NYPD leadership.

O’Neill said in a statement to the group that the NYPD has been reducing to reduce marijuana possession arrests and instead issue summonses since 2014, and the overall numbers reflect the approach – with arrests down 32 percent and summonses up 57 percent, while marijuana complaints are up 26 percent.

But O’Neill said while the NYPD does not target people based on race or other demographics, there are differences in arrest rates when it comes to race that go back many years.

“We need an honest assessment about why they exist, and balance it in the context of the public safety needs of all communities. The NYPD will review our practices to ensure enforcement is consistent with the values of fairness and trust at the root of Neighborhood Policing,” O’Neill said in the statement. “The NYPD has no interest in arresting New Yorkers for marijuana offenses when those arrests have no impact on public safety.”

In addition, a new analysis from City Comptroller Scott Stringer finds legalizing pot could be a boon for New York.

"Legalizing marijuana would unleash a $3.1 billion market in New York state and would also create a $1.1 billion market in the city," Stringer said.

In terms of tax revenue, Stringer says it could potentially bring in $336 million for the city and $436 million for the state.