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Brooklyn DA To Expunge Low-Level Marijuana Convictions

Dashed Arrow Juni Safont / Flickr

Thousands of Brooklynites with misdemeanor marijuana convictions now have the opportunity to wipe those records clean: On Friday, the borough's district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, announced that people with low-level possession crimes in their past can request a dismissal, which his office will then grant. There are a few caveats, but the D.A. expects to see more than 20,000 cases cleared as a result.

"As we move away from criminalizing low-level possession and use of marijuana, we cannot forget those who carry a conviction for conduct that is no longer being prosecuted," Gonzalez said in a statement. "That criminal record can seriously impede a person's ability to get a job, education, housing and other important services. It is only fair to relieve these individuals of that burden and allow them to turn over a new leaf and move on with their lives."

Starting September 1st, the NYPD began implementing a policy of ticketing people for marijuana possession, rather than arresting them—unless that person has a felony or misdemeanor conviction on their record. Given the NYPD's longstanding habit of targeting people of color when policing pot use, the new policy seemed likely to affect uneven change among New York's weed smokers. People of all races smoke weed at equal rates, but across the country, marijuana-related arrests have clustered in communities of color. Even low-level incidents have lasting implications, as Gonzalez pointed out.

People with past convictions for "certain violent felonies and sex offenses" will not be eligible to have their misdemeanors vacated, according to Gonzalez's announcement; those who do qualify have their first opportunity to file a motion the weekend of September 21 to 22, at Lenox Road Baptist Church (1356 Nostrand Avenue) in Prospect Lefferts Gardens (details here). Defense attorneys will be on-hand to help fill out and file paperwork asking the D.A. to vacate the conviction, and the D.A. will grant it. There's no requirement to show up in court, either.

The program is part of Gonzalez's larger Justice 2020 Initiative, announced in January and intended to build a more fair criminal justice system. This won't be the last opportunity to apply for a dismissal, either, although the D.A. hasn't announced future dates or locations yet. But as New York State inches closer to possibly legalizing recreational marijuana, and considering that the Brooklyn D.A.'s office has declined to prosecute fewer and fewer low-level marijuana arrests, it will be interesting to see if other district attorneys follow Gonzalez's lead.

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