New ‘decline to prosecute’ marijuana policy goes into effect in Manhattan

MANHATTAN — A new policy ending the prosecution of most low-level marijuana possession and smoking cases in Manhattan went into effect Wednesday, the borough's district attorney said.

The policy is expected to reduce marijuana prosecutions in Manhattan from 5,000 cases per year to fewer than 200 per year — a 96 percent reduction.

"Our office will exit a system wherein smoking a joint can ruin your job, your college application, or your immigration status, but our advocacy will continue. I urge New York lawmakers to legalize and regulate marijuana once and for all,” Vance said in a statement.

Starting Wednesday, the Manhattan DA's office will no longer prosecute cases involving marijuana possession or smoking, with two exceptions.

Those exceptions are cases against sellers, in which a sale is seen or someone if found to have on them 10 bags or more of marijuana packaged for individual sale; and in cases of demonstrated public safety threat, which applies to anyone who appears to be pose a hazard or, for example, is under active investigation for a violence offense or other serious crime.

Manhattan is second borough to have such a policy. Brooklyn enacted it in 2014.

A report published by Vance's office last month found that, despite efforts by law enforcement, residents in black and Hispanic communities have continued to be arrested at far higher rates than residents in predominantly white communities.

"Our research has found virtually no public safety rationale for the ongoing arrest and prosecution of marijuana smoking, and no moral justification for the intolerable racial disparities that underlie enforcement," Vance said.

District attorneys in Staten Island, the Bronx and Queens said they will continue to the enforce the law, which will change in September as the NYPD will stop arresting most offenders who are busting smoking marijuana in public. Instead, they'll receive summonses.

Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a new policy to reduce "unnecessary" marijuana arrests, announcing that the majority of New Yorkers found smoking marijuana in public will soon receive a summons instead of being arrested.

The mayor also announced that a task force comprised of several city departments, including the NYPD, will study the necessary governing framework for New York City should the state government move forward with marijuana legalization.

CNN contributed to this report.