The district attorney’s office of New York’s Erie County will be dismissing 35 outstanding bench warrants for low-level charges of possession of marijuana, it was announced Friday. The decision was compelled by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s announcement that the city’s police department would no longer be enforcing low-level cannabis-related crimes.
“As legalization discussions continue in Albany, I am relieving a burden on those individuals who may have these charges hanging over their heads in the interest of justice,” District Attorney John Flynn said at a Friday press conference. “I do not believe people should find themselves in the criminal justice system and unable to apply for employment, student loans, or other services because of a low-level marijuana charge.”
Flynn said his next step will be his office staff going to “every town and village court” in Erie County to get their list of outstanding low-level cannabis bench warrants in order to dismiss them.
Though the district attorney told reporters he was unwilling to voice an opinion on marijuana legalization, he was appreciative of the fact that there is a “social justice component” to ending cannabis prohibition.
“The evidence is clear and the numbers are there,” he said. “You can’t hide facts that there is a disproportionate number of minorities who are arrested for low-level marijuana offenses. The facts show that both whites and non-whites use marijuana equally, so there’s a problem there.”
Of the 35 bench warrants that were dismissed, he continued, 28 involved defendants of color.
Also during the press conference, Flynn name-checked Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who announced in December that his office would be letting Brooklynites file a motion to get their minor pot charges dropped. At the time, Gonzalez also cited the racial disparities of the justice system as a prime motivator for the policy change. “I do not believe that pursuing those cases makes us safer, and because I recognize that the racial disparities in enforcement with respect to these offenses remained intractable.”
When making decisions on cannabis policing, New York law enforcement is clearly cognizant of the fact that regulation change seems to be on its way. In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo included key points on a plan to legalize marijuana, complete with potential tax rates, in his State of the State address.
Of all the reasons to legalize marijuana, Governor Cuomo seems to be most attracted to the green in the green. He also shared the fact that up to $300 million a year could be expected in taxes by legalizing recreational cannabis to adults over the age of 21. This week, documents surfaced revealing that Cuomo is being lobbied by at least one cannabis business association to ban home grows, though there is no proof that the governor himself is in favor of the money grab for the commercial industry.
Cuomo made recreational cannabis a goal for the 100 days of his current term, famously changed his mind on cannabis legalization last year during actress Cynthia Nixon’s primary challenge. Hopes are high that a cannabis regulatory program budget could be approved by New York’s congress by the start of the fiscal year.