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Manhattan to Stop Prosecuting Most Low-Level Marijuana Cases in August

Last year, cops in Manhattan arrested people for smoking or possessing small amounts of marijuana a little more than 5,500 times. A disproportionate number of those arrested were minorities.

In a few months, most similar cases won't be prosecuted. On Tuesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced his office would decline to take up those cases, effective August 1.

"The dual mission of the Manhattan DA's office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system," Vance said. "The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals."

Vance, a Democrat who is in his third term, said his office was discussing with New York City police and Mayor Bill de Blasio what exceptions there should be to the policy.

New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill on Tuesday announced a working group will take the next 30 days to look at the enforcement measures by the department.

He said that, while the department doesn't target minorities, "there are differences in arrest rates, and they have persisted going back many years, long before this current administration. We need an honest assessment about why they exist ... ."

O'Neill said NYPD officers should not make arrests that don't impact public safety.

Under the DA's office new policy, people who violate the law would be issued summonses. The NYPD does this in cases where possession is the most serious charge a person would face, O'Neill said.

Under the current policy in Manhattan, people are arrested, fingerprinted and have to appear in court.

The DA's office said this creates enormous costs for the legal system and alienates too many people.

"Such arrests can significantly impact job searches, schooling, family members, immigration status, and community involvement," the DA said. There are often no punitive, rehabilitative or deterrent purposes in these cases, the DA said.

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