Several months ago, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced his plan to stop prosecuting small-time pot possession arrests, and this week, he'll begin to carry it out, effectively enacting a limited version of legalization in the borough.
From Greenpoint to Brighton Beach, if you're arrested with less than two ounces of weed (far more than anyone who's not dealing would be likely to carry at once), the charges will be thrown out and you'll receive no punishment. Some caveats: people with existing criminal records don't qualify, and if you're smoking in public, especially near children, the DA's office may decide to prosecute.
Thompson rightly frames the decision in terms of social justice. Weed criminalization disproportionately affects people of color, especially in Brooklyn and Manhattan, where black people are nine times more likely to be arrested than whites. He wrote in a memo issued yesterday:
The goal of this new policy is to ensure that: (1) the limited resources of this Office are allocated in a manner that most enhances public safety; and (2) individuals, and especially young people of color, do not become unfairly burdened and stigmatized by involvement in the criminal justice system for engaging in non-violent conduct that poses no threat of harm to persons or property.
If the conduct in which the individual has engaged is the mere possession of a small amount of marihuana in public, it would not, under most circumstances, warrant saddling that individual with a new criminal conviction and all of its attendant collateral consequences related to employment, education, and housing. Moreover, given the vast number of community members who, regardless of race, have engaged at some point in their lives in this non-violent conduct with impunity, the imposition of a conviction for such conduct may perpetuate the public's perception that the criminal justice system as a whole and law enforcement in particular is neither colorblind, nor class-blind.
In response to the policy, Commissioner Bratton released a statement saying that he understood that Mr. Thompson had the prerogative to decline to prosecute any criminal offense in Brooklyn.
"However, in order to be effective, our police officers must enforce the laws of the State of New York uniformly throughout all five boroughs of the city," Mr. Bratton said. "Accordingly, the Kings County policy change will not result in any changes in the policies and procedures of the N.Y.P.D."
So how does this affect your life as a noncriminal Brooklyn stoner with the good sense not to light up near a playground? The NYPD still has every right to arrest you, and they will (especially if you're black and live outside Brooklyn's gentrified northwest corridor), but when it comes time to prosecute, your charges will be dismissed, your records will be destroyed, and you'll walk away scot-free. Your worst-case scenario is a cop deciding to throw you in a holding cell until your arraignment, in which case all of the above is still true — you'll just spend an uncomfortable night waiting to get out.
Residents of the other four boroughs are still out of luck.
[Image via AP]