As Gov. Andrew Cuomo is setting the legalization of recreational cannabis in New York as a goal for the first 100 days of his administration, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is clearing hundreds of cannabis possession cases.
In Manhattan on Monday, Cuomo made the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults a priority for the first 100 days of his new term. Cuomo, who was reelected in November’s midterm elections, announced his administration’s top goals for 2019 in a speech to the New York City Bar Association.
“We must also end the needless and unjust criminal convictions, and the debilitating criminal stigma, and let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo told the meeting of attorneys that additional criminal justice reforms were also needed.
“We have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and well off, and one for everyone else,” Cuomo said. “And that’s going to end.”
Cuomo noted that injustice has “for too long targeted the African-American and minority communities” and also called for an end to the cash bail system during Monday’s speech.
The governor said during a radio interview last week that his priorities for the new term will have a notably progressive theme, which Cuomo characterized as in part a response to the policies of the Trump administration.
“This is a much different year given the assault of the federal government,” Cuomo said. “There’s no doubt that New York has to stand up for itself and we have to fight Washington and we have to protect ourselves and we need state laws that do that.”
Weed Charges Cleared by Brooklyn DA
In Brooklyn, District Attorney Gonzalez asked a judge on Wednesday to clear 28 past convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession. The court also vacated open warrants for more than 1,400 individuals who had missed court appearances for marijuana possession charges.
“I do not believe these cases keep us safer. They cause a lot of distrust in our justice system,” Gonzalez said. “We all here know there is a tremendous racial disparity in respect to how these cases have been enforced in the past.”
The district attorney also noted that a majority of the defendants were blacks and Latinos who had been cited under controversial “stop and frisk” policies in New York City.
Gonzalez has ended prosecution of cases for possession of small amounts of marijuana in the borough. And in September, he launched a “Begin Again” program that will dismiss past cannabis possession convictions for most defendants who request that the charges be dropped. Requests from offenders with additional convictions for drug sales or some violent or sex crimes may not be approved, according to the district attorney’s office.
Gonzalez said that clearing past convictions is a matter of fairness.
“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 said.