New Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson appears to be living up to his promise to stop prosecuting individuals who are caught with small amounts of marijuana, according to a memo obtained by the NY Post. "When a defendant has neither a criminal record nor an open arrest or warrant, it makes no sense for the criminal justice system, including a District Attorney’s Office, to devote its scarce resources to lengthy case processing," the memo, which was reportedly sent to NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, states, adding that low-level marijuana arrests unfairly impact "young people of color." Indeed, they do.
In 2012, 12,732 people were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Brooklyn, where blacks were nine times more likely to be arrested for the offense than whites. According to the memo, the Brooklyn DA’s office processed 8,500 arrests in 2013 in which the top charge was Class B possession of marijuana, and "more than two-thirds of those cases ended up being dismissed."
The memo reportedly stated that prosecutions would only be dropped against Class B misdemeanors and suspects with no criminal records. Since the mid-'70s, marijuana possession in New York State has been decriminalized for amounts of 25 grams or less, as long as it's not in public view. But the NYPD, especially under Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations, widely disregarded this law, and the department's stop-and-frisk policy was instrumental in driving up the numbers of pot possession arrests.
Thompson, who ousted longtime Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes in last year's bitterly-contested election, campaigned on a pledge to reduce the number of prosecutions for low-level marijuana possession, and according to the Post he's starting to rattle cages, because "police brass had a meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon to discuss the DA’s plan."
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton told the Times he is opposed the decriminalization of marijuana, but will “continue to work with the political leadership and to work with the various prosecutors’ offices on how to deal with that issue."
Unfortunately for minors, it appears that Thompson's attempt at reform won't help them. As we reported in February, juvenile delinquency arrests "are prosecuted by the city's own lawyers, the Corporation Counsel's office, rather than the five boroughs' independently elected district attorneys. And unlike D.A. Thompson, the Corporation Counsel, Zachary Carter, has made no similar promise to cease prosecuting kids for possessing small amounts of marijuana."
Still, it's better than nothing. "This is a good decision by District Attorney Thompson," Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a statement. "I commend him for taking this bold step to stop criminalizing our young people. The policy of arresting young people for carrying a small amount of pot clogged our legal system and diverted resources from pursuing violent crime, which the DFA should and, thankfully, is now doing."
And Dan Riffle, Director of Federal Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, says, "As a former prosecutor myself, I know that our law enforcement officials have better things to do than arresting and prosecuting people for possession of something less harmful than alcohol. The vast majority of Americans agree that marijuana use shouldn’t be a crime, and polls show most would prefer to see production and distribution regulated, and sales taxed. Mr. Thompson’s new policy is a good first step in that direction."
Thompson's spokesperson was unavailable for comment.