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D.A. Vance’s Pledge to “End” the Prosecution of Marijuana Cases In New York: What You Need To Know

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. recently announced a change in policy that will soon effect many low-level marijuana offenders in Manhattan. To those who smoke and possess marijuana in New York City, the message was clear: he does not want to prosecute you. The new policy will be aimed at countering the NYPD’s proven disparate treatment of racial minorities in the form of unequal enforcement of the marijuana laws, as well as reduce the number of low-level cases that are handled in the City’s Courts by the thousands. Echoing Vance’s desire to reduce unnecessary arrests and disparity in the enforcement of the law, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that the NYPD would be required to overhaul it’s marijuana policy as well.

Vance’s policy change comes on the heels of a disturbing (albeit unsurprising) study which revealed that African-Americans are arrested for low-level marijuana offenses at a rate 8 times that of whites in New York City, and 15 times more than white people in Manhattan alone. The critical component of the study of course indicated that both African-American and white folks use marijuana at the same rate.

In light of these (and other) statistics, beginning on August 1, 2018, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will simply stop prosecuting low-level criminal cases involving smoking and possession of marijuana, with few exemptions. Yes, you read that correctly: If you are arrested for smoking a marijuana cigarette, joint, blunt or pipe in public, or otherwise possess a small enough quantity of marijuana, the Manhattan DA’s office will not prosecute you as of that date. DA Vance expects that the number of marijuana cases handled by the system annually to be reduced from roughly 5,000 to 200 as a result.

What if I am arrested for possessing or smoking marijuana before August 1, 2018?

In the meantime, between now and August 1, if you are arrested for smoking or possessing marijuana for the first time you should be offered a 90-day marijuana ACD. If you are arrested for the same charge and you have previously received a marijuana ACD, you may receive a 6-month ACD this time around, unless you fall under one of the DA’s Office’s “public safety” exemptions. [It is worth noting that the Criminal Procedure Law in New York calls for a 1-year ACD in Marijuana offenses (See CPL 170.56)]. The Manhattan DA’s Office has indicated that they will not abide by this interim policy in cases where defendants have been convicted of a violent felony in the last ten years , have a conviction for any sex crime-related offense, or are under a particular arrested alert by their Office’s Crime Strategies Unit, so if you fall under one of those categories, the new policy will not apply.

What is an “ACD”?

An “ACD” is an acronym for an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal, and it means just that: your case will be adjourned with the expectation of being dismissed at the end of the ACD’s term. So, for example, if you were to receive a 90-day ACD today, your case will be marked down for dismissal in 90 days assuming you do not incur any new arrests. The critical caveat with the ACD is that your criminal case remains open for the entire ACD period. This can have important consequences for non-citizens, or those who expect to be subjected to a background check for employment opportunities, for example.