As of August 1, it is now legal in Manhattan to smoke marijuana in public, unless it poses a threat to public safety.
Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, proposed plans to stop prosecuting low-level marijuana cases May 15.
In a New York Times report, it was revealed that there is a large racial gap for cannabis-related arrests. 86 percent of people arrested for marijuana cases were people of color: 48 percent being black, 38 percent were Hispanic—only nine percent were white.
This issue was one of Vance’s main reasons for the new policy. “Our research has found virtually no public safety rationale for the ongoing arrest and prosecution of marijuana smoking and no moral justification for the intolerable racial disparities that underlie enforcement.
“Tomorrow, our Office will exit a system wherein smoking a joint can ruin your job, your college application, or your immigration status, but our advocacy will continue,” he goes on to say.
The new policy is expected to reduce marijuana cases by 96% percent, from 5,000 a year to fewer than 200.
This decision has also raised questions regarding total legality of cannabis across the state of New York.
So far, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis. Recently, Vermont became the ninth state to legalize marijuana, with the effective date of legalization being July 2018.
Earlier this year, a Department of Health (DoH) study commissioned by governor Andrew Cuomo concluded that the use of recreational cannabis should be legalized. Cuomo had previously suggested that he was against the legalization of the drug by saying that it is “a gateway drug”.
His opponent, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon has also expressed her desire for marijuana to be legalized in the state of New York, it being one of her main policies. “We have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity,” she says.
Brooklyn has already ended prosecution of the use of marijuana and has seen astonishing results. Low-level marijuana arrests in Brooklyn have decreased by 90 percent, going from 349 cases in January to 29 in June.
Although Manhattan and Brooklyn have ended prosecution on all low-level cannabis cases, the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens are yet to change their policies.
Vance ends his statement: “I urge New York lawmakers to legalize and regulate marijuana once and for all.”