NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Some low-level drug offenders are about to get a clean slate. The Manhattan District Attorney has announced he will dismiss thousands of marijuana cases.
Cyrus Vance Jr. is again calling on the state of New York to legalize marijuana. In the meantime, he's implementing a "decline to prosecute" policy for smoking and possession violations.
"I think they will breathe a sigh of relief that this has been resolved," DA Vance said.
The district attorney announced Wednesday that he will vacate more than 3,000 cases and bench warrants for both smoking and possession of marijuana.
"It's not charged with possession of marijuana and a gun. It's only marijuana as a violation where warrants were issued because they failed to show up at court," Vance explained.
The new "decline to prosecute" policy includes a plan to proactively seal past marijuana convictions dating back to 1978.
On Saturday, New York City changed their policy on drug enforcement, having the NYPD only issue summonses for marijuana smoking violations.
Advocates say these defendants deserve a second chance.
"These individuals with these open warrants hanging over their heads but they stayed out of trouble. If they would've been picked up by police these warrants would've popped up," Seth Steed of Neighborhood Defender Services told CBS2's Jessica Moore.
Of the 3,042 misdemeanor marijuana cases to be vacated, Vance says 78 percent of the defendants are black or Hispanic.
"We've made the decision in the interest of justice and fairness given the racial disparities we talked about earlier to pull the warrants for people who are only charged with only possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor," the district attorney said.
Warrants will be sealed within 90 days and the NYPD has been asked not to execute warrants on those open cases during that time.
There will be two important exceptions to the new rule. Cases against defendants under investigation for a violent crime and those who are charged with attempting to sell marijuana will not be sealed.
for more features.