Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez at a press conference today announced his intent to vacate over ten thousand low-level marijuana convictions.
Though state lawmakers decriminalized minor marijuana possession offenses in 1977, possessing small amounts of cannabis “in public view” remains a criminal misdemeanor. City police have made several hundred thousand arrests since the late 1990s for violation of the ‘public use’ statute – primarily due to aggressive ‘stop and frisk’ policing. Over 80 percent of those arrested were either Black or Latino.
Under the DA’s newly announced initiative, those with low-level convictions will be eligible to have their criminal records vacated beginning September 21. Prosecutors estimate that the effort may ultimately result in the expungement of some 20,000 past convictions.
Earlier this year, DA Gonzalez, along with Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. declared that their offices would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana offenses. “It’s a little unfair to say we’re no longer prosecuting these cases, but to have these folks carry these convictions for the rest of their lives,” Gonzalez told The Associated Press .
In recent months, District Attorneys in a number of metropolitan areas, such as San Francisco and Seattle, have begun the process of reviewing and vacating past, low-level marijuana convictions. Lawmakers in several states – including Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, and Rhode Island – have enacted expungement laws following the passage of either marijuana decriminalization or legalization. In California, legislation providing for mandatory expungement of past marijuana convictions is awaiting the Governor’s signature. An estimated 220,000 cases would be eligible for erasure or a reduction under the proposed California law.
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Author: Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director