On Tuesday Brooklyn District Attorney Ken P. Thompson announced he was going to use his power to stop prosecuting most low-level marijuana possession cases in the borough. The plan which has been in the works for months is finally going to be implemented.
According to Thompson the new policy is “a reasonable response to the thousands of low-level marijuana arrests that weigh down the criminal justice system, require significant resources that could be redirected to more serious crimes and take an unnecessary toll on offenders. Pursuant to this policy, we will use our prosecutorial discretion to decline to prosecute, and dismiss upfront, certain low-level marijuana possession cases based on criteria concerning the particular individual and the circumstances of the case. For example, cases will be dismissed prior to arraignment for those with little or no criminal record, but we will continue to prosecute marijuana cases which most clearly raise public health and safety concerns.”
The policy should help reducing the huge number of marijuana arrests in the city but it is not a free pass. This DA is simply planning to not waste resources on minor cases going forward but will still prosecute if there are other factors involved. For example if the individual is caught smoking in public, has a record of violent behavior under the use of marijuana, or has an open warrant the DA’s office will likely still prosecute.
While a positive move, it is only a temporary solution. Ultimately fixing the problem will take a change in the law. There have been serious efforts to try to fix New York’s broken marijuana decriminalization law but so far they haven’t made it out of the state legislature.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy