While Governor Andrew Cuomo has abandoned his commitment to decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view—and instead pursue a narrow medical marijuana initiative—Kings County District Attorney Ken Thompson has renewed his campaign pledge to treat possession of as much as 15 grams of marijuana as a violation instead of a misdemeanor.
A spokeswoman for Thompson, Sharon Toomer, said earlier today the DA was committed to taking the necessary steps to implement the policy "as soon as possible." Toomer declined to provide further details on the initiative.
In 2012, 12,732 people were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Kings County, where blacks were nine times more likely to be arrested for the offense than whites.
Cuomo invoked this evidence of racially biased policing when he announced in 2012 that he would push for decriminalization of possessing up to 25 grams of marijuana in public view. Thompson, who defeated incumbent Charles Hynes in the primary and the general election, based his decision to decriminalize marijuana on the governor's own proposal. "If the [state] Senate Republicans are not willing to pass that law, then I don't think the people of Brooklyn can wait. These arrests are clogging the criminal justice system," Thompson said in October.
Earlier this week, Cuomo explained that he had changed his position on decriminalization because it was "not timely in the way it was last year."
"Politicians today who are not paying attention to the demonstrative change in public opinion against cannabis prohibition stand to alienate themselves with 60-70% of the general public," says Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "If he wants to punt on legalization for the moment until the country supports the policy at super majorities, well, it will not show much in the way of political leadership, but it would be politically pragmatic."