Just about a week after Mayor Bill de Blasio asked for a review of how law enforcement handles marijuana policy in New York City, he told the city’s police officers to halt arrests on people smoking pot in public.
The move comes as the city is in the middle of its 30-day review of how the city enforces the law when it comes to weed. An unsurprising report released last week revealed that although whites and Blacks smoke marijuana at the same rates, Black and Latinos are arrested for possession of marijuana at higher rates than whites.
The report prompted de Blasio to tell police to only issues summonses for those caught with marijuana. Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance announced he will no longer prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases starting in August.
“The working group is reviewing possession and public smoking of marijuana to ensure enforcement is consistent with the values of fairness and trust, while also promoting public safety and addressing community concerns,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Phil Walzak said.
New York City, and eventually New York State, may become one of the many places in the nation to take steps to legalize the use of marijuana.
“I have seen the devastation that marijuana prohibition has brought on our communities. I applaud the Manhattan district office’s decision to no longer file charges against defendants in most marijuana cases,” said Landon Dais, MedMen’s political director in New York. “It is a move in the right direction. It is unconscionable that at this day and age people are still being arrested for what is mostly a benign product and legal in some form in 30 states.”
However, marijuana arrests have had a more profound impact on some communities than others. Black residents in Southeast Queens know firsthand.
Cambria Heights, Hollis, Jamaica, St. Albans and Springfield Gardens have some of the highest numbers of Black homeowners in the nation, and Blacks in these neighborhoods make higher incomes than neighboring white communities. The area is also home to the 105th Precinct, which has the city’s highest number of summonses for marijuana in the city for the last decade.
Lawmakers in the area believe the number is so high because of the animosity many whites feel against the affluent Blacks. It’s also believed to be a way to prevent Black people from home ownership. Summonses can lead to drug conviction, which can prevent someone from getting a job, getting financial aid for school and being able to own a home.
Politicians are calling on Queens District Attorney Richard Brown to make a move similar to Vance and late Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson to stop prosecuting low-level marijuana arrests.
“There has been over policing in our community that doesn’t call for it,” Council Member Daneek Miller said in an interview. “The priority should be to address the decades-long impact on people of color because police could come up with another tool to arrest people.”
State Sen. Leroy Comry said that Brown can no longer ignore that Black citizens are not getting fair and equal justice.
“It is past time that Queens County joins other jurisdictions in New York and across the country in suspending the prosecution of low-level marijuana offenses,” he said. “While such action does not directly address the important quality of life and public health issues that stem from drug use, there is ample evidence to suggest that these prosecutions and resultant periods of incarceration are far more damaging to our communities.”