Marijuana prosecutions for low-level offenses in Brooklyn dropped over 91 percent in 2018, DA says

The Brooklyn district attorney's office will continue to decline prosecution of low-level marijuana offenses in the borough, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Friday.
The Brooklyn district attorney’s office will continue to decline prosecution of low-level marijuana offenses in the borough, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Friday. Photo Credit: Getty Images / John Moore

The prosecution of low-level marijuana offenses in Brooklyn fell by over 91 percent in the first half of 2018, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced Friday.

The steep drop in prosecution rates stems from an expansion of an existing pilot policy on misdemeanor pot offenses to include cases of smoking in public. Combined with a 60 percent decrease in marijuana arrests, the district attorney’s office has seen a declination rate of over 70 percent so far this year, according to Gonzalez.

“Aggressive enforcement and prosecution of personal possession and use of marijuana does not keep us safer, and the glaring racial disparities in who is and is not arrested have contributed to a sense among many in our communities that the system is unfair,” Gonzalez said in an emailed statement Friday. “This in turn contributes to a lack of trust in law enforcement, which makes us all less safe.”

The number of cases accepted for prosecution in Brooklyn went from 349 in January to 29 in June — a decrease of 91.6 percent, according to the district attorney’s office. Of the cases that were prosecuted in the first six months of the year, 84 percent were dismissed.

Eight cases that were prosecuted resulted in a misdemeanor conviction and a majority of the remaining cases ended with pleas to noncriminal charges. The individuals involved in the eight cases that resulted in convictions had prior criminal records, the district attorney’s office said.

The expanded pilot policy reduced the number of court proceedings for low-level marijuana crimes, which freed up resources and strengthened the public’s trust in the criminal justice system, the district attorney said.

Citing the policy’s success, Gonzalez said his office would continue to decline prosecuting low-level marijuana cases unless a person poses a serious threat to public safety, such as driving with burning marijuana or smoking on public transportation.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill had announced in June that beginning Sept. 1, New Yorkers caught smoking marijuana in public would face criminal summonses instead of arrest. The policy change came out of a 30-day working group convened by O’Neill to address racial disparities in the way marijuana laws are enforced in the city.

Gonzalez said he believes the drop in prosecution rates in Brooklyn will go even lower once the NYPD’s new policy goes into effect.