More than two dozen people with criminal records for misdemeanor marijuana possession received new leases on life Wednesday as the Brooklyn district attorney moved to erase the cumbersome convictions.
District Attorney Eric Gonzalez agreed to vacate 28 convictions in court Wednesday morning as well as 1,422 outstanding warrants related to misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, which he also dismissed. It was the first time in state history that marijuana convictions have been erased under an initiative led by a district attorney, according to Gonzalez’s office.
Speaking before Administrative Judge Michael Yavinsky, Gonzalez acknowledged racial disparities in the way marijuana laws are enforced in the city and noted that his office has stopped pursuing most misdemeanor marijuana possession and smoking cases as the state moves closer toward legalizing adult use of the drug.
“These past convictions do not make us safe as they may hold back those who carry them from moving forward with their lives as contributing members of society,” Gonzalez said during a news conference following the court appearance.
The convictions were the first to be vacated under the program, which is operated in partnership with staff from Brooklyn Defender Services and the Legal Aid Society, that the district attorney introduced in September.
With Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushing to legalize adult use of marijuana in 2019, Gonzalez said he feels erasing past low-level convictions must be part of any legislation that is considered by state lawmakers and his actions in court on Wednesday proved it can be done.