At a press conference held today Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced that he plans to allow for up to 20,000 low-level marijuana convictions to be wiped from criminal records.
Despite lawmakers in New York decriminalizing 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”, says Paul Armentano, NORML’s Deputy Director. “Over 80 percent of those arrested were either Black or Latino.”
Under the DA’s newly announced initiative, those with low-level marijuana-related convictions will be eligible to have the charges vacated from their criminal record beginning September 21. Gonzalez estimates that prosecutors will consent to dismissing the charges in a great majority of cases, which could ultimately result in the expungement of up to 20,000 past convictions
Earlier this year, 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.