Starting today, Monday, January 14, the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office will no longer be prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses.
Announced in a statement from Westchester County D.A. Anthony Scarpino on Friday afternoon, “Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fifth Degree,” i.e. possession of between 25 grams and 2 ounces of the plant, will be prosecuted only as a violation, rather than a class-B misdemeanor, unless associated with other charges. “Unlawful Possession of Marijuana,” previously a violation for smaller quantities, will not be prosecuted at all.
“After a careful review of marijuana cases in Westchester, as well as discussions with police, community leaders and advocates, we have made the decision to change how we prosecute such offenses,” says Scarpino in the statement. “This decision not to prosecute specific cases will allow many people to move forward with their lives without the stigma attached to criminal records of any kind, records that cause discrimination in housing, job and school applications. Much of this has burdened our minority communities and we believe it is time to rectify that.”
He adds, “This change in how low-level marijuana cases are handled is also aimed at a better use of public resources. What has been spent on arrests and prosecutions can now be used to focus on more serious crimes.” Scarpino is also urging Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators streamline the process for prosecuting marijuana-related charges on a state level, to relieve the inconsistencies between counties.
Helen Jonsen, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, confirmed that many currently facing pending prosecution for these offenses will likely see the charges dropped. Whether and how the D.A.’s office might also expunge any previous convictions has yet to be determined.
The changes in policy are designed to tie into bail reforms made last year, which did away with requests for cash bail for most misdemeanor charges.
“These reforms in the bail process and marijuana prosecution are illustrations of our commitment to a fairer system of justice that works for every member of our community,” Scarpino says, “no matter where they live, the color of their skin or the amount in their wallets.”