District Attorney Vance Dismisses 4,500 Marijuana Cases


June 30, 2021

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today appeared virtually in Manhattan Criminal Court and moved to dismiss 4,503 marijuana cases, preventing unnecessary future contacts with the criminal justice system, eliminating the collateral consequences associated with having an open marijuana case, and empowering New Yorkers to interact with law enforcement without fear of arrest or deportation. Today’s motion follows the D.A.’s Office’s 2018 en masse dismissal of 3,042 cases after the enactment of its “Decline-to-Prosecute” policy for marijuana possession and smoking.
 
“Dismissing marijuana cases en masse is an important step toward addressing the decades of racial disparities behind marijuana enforcement in New York City,” said District Attorney Vance. “But Albany must not delay in implementing its promises to legalize marijuana in New York State. Legal sales for adult use – not just decriminalization – are necessary to stymie illicit markets operating without regulatory controls, address discriminatory enforcement, and meaningfully advance social justice.”
 
In 2018, the D.A.’s Office dismissed all 3,042 cases available in its records dating back to 1978, wherein the only remaining charge was marijuana possession or smoking under PL 221.10(1), a class B misdemeanor, or PL 221.05, a violation.
 
Today, District Attorney Vance appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court to dismiss an additional 4,503 cases, including 1,794 Criminal Court cases and 2,709 Summons cases ranging from violations to E felonies. Judge John Z. Wang granted D.A. Vance’s motion to vacate the underlying bench warrants and dismiss the cases en masse.
 
In moving to dismiss today’s cases, District Attorney Vance stated the following in court:
 

“As Your Honor has said, we are here today to address the more than 4,000 open Criminal Court bench warrants for marijuana possession and sale under, now repealed, Penal Law 221. The decriminalization of these marijuana offenses marks an important change in our law and one that I have advocated for over the past several years. It is a step toward addressing the decades of racial disparities inherent in enforcement of this law and negative collateral consequences stemming from those charges.

It is our experience that outstanding warrants for these low-level cases drive law enforcement and our communities apart: New Yorkers with warrants face unnecessary loss of employment, housing, and immigration consequences, and because they fear that they will be arrested for an open warrant, they sometimes are reluctant to collaborate with the NYPD and District Attorneys. That undermines public safety. By vacating these warrants, we are also preventing unnecessary future interactions with the criminal justice system.
 
Repeal of the prior marijuana law and dismissal of these cases removes the adverse collateral consequences – for one’s job prospects, school attendance, housing applications, and immigration status – associated with an open Criminal Court case.
 
Therefore, at this time, as to Calendar #1 (Numbers 1 through 1,794) and as to Calendar #2, (Numbers 1 through 2,709), the People move to vacate the bench warrants on all matters, to vacate the pleas on cases where there has been a plea, and to dismiss each of these cases in the interest of justice.”

 
Declining to Prosecute Low-Level Offenses

Since 2010, D.A. Vance has cut the Office’s total prosecutions by nearly 60% by ending the routine prosecution of marijuana smoking and possessionsubway fare evasion, prostitution, unlicensed massage, and loitering for prostitutionunlicensed vendingnonpayment of finespeaceful protest, and summons cases