Faced with fresh evidence of the racial disparity in marijuana enforcement across New York City, Manhattan's district attorney said Tuesday he will largely stop prosecuting people for possessing or smoking marijuana, the AP reports. The move by District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. came the same day that Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that the city's police department would overhaul its marijuana enforcement policies in the next 30 days. Brooklyn's district attorney also said he would scale back prosecutions. "We must and we will end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement," de Blasio said at a conference of the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC. Vance said that his office will stop prosecuting marijuana possession and smoking cases starting Aug. 1 except for a few cases involving "demonstrated public safety concerns."
The change, he said, would reduce marijuana prosecutions in the borough from roughly 5,000 per year to about 200. "The dual mission of the Manhattan DA's office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system," he said in a statement. "The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals." The issue of marijuana arrests was highlighted by a New York Times report on the persistent racial gap in marijuana arrests. The Times reported that blacks in the city are eight times more likely to be arrested on low-level marijuana charges as whites and that the difference cannot entirely be attributed to more residents in predominantly black neighborhoods calling police to complain about marijuana. Federal statistics show similar rates of marijuana use among whites, blacks and Hispanics, but about 87% of people arrested for pot in New York City are black or Hispanic.