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by on May 15, 2018
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City Council member asks DAs to drop low-level misdemeanor marijuana cases

City Councilman Rory Lancman said he’s appealing to the DAs because of a massive racial gap in people busted by the NYPD for pot use.

The head of the City Council's justice committee is asking the city's five district attorneys to refuse to prosecute people arrested for low-level pot possession for misdemeanors.

Councilman Rory Lancman said he's appealing to the DAs because of a massive racial gap in people busted by the NYPD for pot use.

Lancman (D-Queens) says DAs should automatically knock down the charges for people arrested for public pot smoking from misdemeanors to violations.

For people slapped with summonses for possessing less than 25 grams of pot but not smoking it in public view, he says prosecutors should throw out the charges altogether.

"The city has proven itself completely unwilling and unable to end discriminatory marijuana possession policing," Lancman said. "Prosecutors...need to step in here because the situation is becoming intolerable."

The de Blasio administration scaled back arrests for pot, typically arresting people only when they're caught smoking in public, and instead giving a summons when someone has pot on them but isn't smoking it.

But a whopping 86% of people arrested under the new policy are black and Latino.

The NYPD explained the gap by saying they're going after pot smokers in neighborhoods where residents are calling to complain.

But data shows that the most arrests aren't taking place in neighborhoods where people make the most 911 and 311 complaints, the Daily News first reported. Separate analyses of the data by Politico and the New York Times reached the same conclusion.

The Brooklyn DA's office already declines to prosecute many low-level marijuana cases, where the defendant has no serious criminal record and is not suspected of selling the drug.

The Manhattan DA has also changed its sentencing guidelines, offering on the first two offenses to dismiss the charges if the defendant stays out of trouble for a number of months.

Brooklyn and Manhattan are expected to soon expand their policies to cover more offenses, a source said.

Police Commissioner James O'Neill, testifying before the Council Monday, said many complaints are not made through 911 and 311, but also acknowledged cops have no reliable explanation for the racial gap.

"We're looking to see why the disparity exists. I don't have an answer for you today," he said.

Some 36% of people arrested for possession last year had no criminal history, according to O'Neill. "That's not what I'm looking for," he said.

But he said cops still have to respond to residents upset about pot smoking on their streets.

"Many New Yorkers clearly feel this behavior reduces their quality of life. In areas of our city in which marijuana enforcement appears to be disproportionate to complaints received, we are working to understand the reasons for that activity and reviewing whether they are the result of local complaints, larger numbers of officers patrolling given areas, or other reasons," O'Neill said. "I steadfastly reject the idea that these arrests are racially motivated."

In an interview on NY1 Monday night, Mayor de Blasio said of the racial disparities, "We have to do better there's no question about it."

As he has in the past, de Blasio hastened to note arrests for all crimes had dropped by about 100,000 over the last three years, and marijuana arrests by 37,000 in three years as the city moved to issuing summonses in most cases of possession.

"Those are real elements of progress, but I take to heart that we just have to do better, that's my message to all New Yorkers. We have got to continue to drive down the arrests we've got to look at other policy changes that will help us do that. I don't accept disparity, I really don't."

The comments were a shift in rhetoric from de Blasio, who has previously seemed to downplay the racial disparities in marijuana arrests.

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Read More:

Mayor de Blasio Vows to Slash Marijuana Enforcement: ‘We Will End Unnecessary Arrests’

NYPD denies targeted marijuana arrests at Council hearing

Surest Way to Face Marijuana Charges in New York: Be Black or Hispanic

Posted in: Policing, Race, Society
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