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Marijuana Takes Center Stage In Race For Brooklyn District Attorney

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Democratic nominee for Brooklyn district attorney wants to decriminalize marijuana. But others argue this strategy will overburden the criminal justice system.

CBS 2 investigative reporter Tamara Leitner looked into both sides of this controversial issue on Friday.

Elizabeth McRae is a recovering drug addict. She said she believes the laws need to be tougher on people caught with marijuana.

"I definitely hit rock bottom. We don't need to tell people it's OK. It's not OK," McRae said.

Democratic nominee Ken Thompson is pushing to decriminalize marijuana, but still get a ticket and a fine.

"These arrests for small amounts of marijuana are clogging the criminal justice system," Thompson said.

The 48-year-old former federal prosecutor said if elected, he would not prosecute cases involving less than a half ounce of pot. Instead, the person would be given a violation.

"Brooklyn leads not only the city, but leads the country in these arrests. So we have to be smarter when it comes to how we handle these small amounts of marijuana arrests," Thompson said.

New Yorkers seemed split on the controversial topic.

"I think it's a great idea," said Julie Batkiewicz of Brooklyn.

"I don't want that to cause, like open up Pandora's Box," Neal Harrigan added.

"I don't see what the problem is. It's going to happen eventually," Ravi Bhatia said.

Currently, if caught with even a small amount of marijuana, violators could face a misdemeanor, 90 days in jail and a $250 fine.

"It doesn't eliminate the arrests," incumbent district attorney Charles Hynes said.

Hynes supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo's failed attempt to change marijuana laws, but said Thompson's proposal would actually tax the already burdened criminal justice system more because the person given a ticket would still have to face a judge.

"I'm not sure whether he doesn't understand or if it's just another example of his pandering, but he says marijuana cases are clogging the courts. All of these cases under any view of how it's disposed of, will end up in court," Hynes said.

According to a recent study out by the ACLU, Kings County leads the state in arrests for possession of marijuana, Leitner reported.

Hynes noted that 70 percent of these low-level marijuana cases in Brooklyn are immediately dismissed and 21 percent of the people end up with a fine and no criminal charges.

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