Queens Criminal Court dismisses thousands of low-level marijuana cases at DA’s request

Queens Rally and Press Conference in Solidarity with George Floyd and Black Lives
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz delivers remarks at Queens Borough Hall. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Thousands of misdemeanor marijuana cases were dismissed and sealed in Queens Criminal Court Tuesday after District Attorney Melinda Katz appeared virtually before Judge Jerry Iannece.

Katz asked the court to 894 cases involving defendants who are awaiting arraignment on desk appearance tickets and summonses, have cases presently pending in criminal court, have previously pled guilty to marijuana charges, and/or have outstanding warrants for marijuana and marijuana-related offenses.

The DA requested that all warrants be vacated and the cases dismissed and sealed.

Additionally, 2,361 cases where defendants were issued summonses for marijuana offenses and currently have outstanding warrants. The DA asked the court to dismiss and seal the cases.

“For many years, I have advocated for the decriminalization of recreational marijuana use and other low-level, marijuana-related offenses. Since taking office, I have declined to prosecute these cases for the significant reason that criminalization of marijuana had a disproportionate impact on communities of color.”

Katz moved to dismiss the cases after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the New York State Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) in late March which legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21.

“The recent marijuana legislation was long overdue,” Katz said. “Today’s proceeding is another step in our continued pursuit of justice and equity for all.”

The move comes three months after Katz requested that the court dismiss and seal hundreds of loitering for the purpose of prostitution offenses. Penal Law 240.37 — another law that had recently been repealed by the legislature — far too often targeted women, trans people and people of color solely based on their appearance.

“Today’s application to the court is another step in the right direction,” Katz said. “This office is committed to dispensing justice in a fair and equitable manner for all.”

Queens joined the Bronx and Staten Island in dismissing marijuana cases.

A number of public defender organizations were represented during the special session.

Emma Goodman of The Legal Aid Society said the dismissal of the more than 3,000 cases is “critical for our clients, the majority of whom are [from] communities of color who can now move on with their lives.”

Goodman added that further prosecution of misdemeanor marijuana cases would be unjust.

“For decades our clients have shouldered the brunt of marijuana prohibition, losing years of their lives ensnared in the criminal legal system and denied meaningful employment, housing and other opportunities,” Goodman said.