Williams applauds mayor’s bid to reduce unnecessary arrest for marijuana

Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams on Tuesday applauded Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement that he will work to reduce unnecessary arrests and disparity in enforcement for marijuana possession in New York City.

“As other states across the country legalize marijuana usage, the supposed progressive beacon of New York has been far behind on this issue. Even as the drug remains illegal in the state, it has been very clear that there in New York, and especially in our city, there has been a massive disparity in the degree and severity of enforcement against users,” said Williams, representative for the 45th Assembly District in Brooklyn.

“In New York City, people of more color are being arrested at a rate eight times higher than white individuals for marijuana-related offenses. There has been a systemic targeting of low income and black and brown communities for enforcement against an action that has been tacitly permitted in wealthier and whiter populations,” added Williams, a candidate for Lt. Gov. of New York State. “This disparity is blatant and inexcusable, and must be corrected.

“I applaud the mayor for today announcing that he will work to reduce unnecessary arrests and disparity in enforcement for marijuana possession, an action that is long overdue but will have significant positive impact on the city if implemented consistently and comprehensively,” he continued.

“To that end, I thank Council Member Stephen Levin for his leadership in passing legislation that requires reporting on marijuana arrests and criminal summonses by demographic, as well as for joining me in calling on the NYS Legislature to pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act,” Williams said.

In addition, he said he joined with his colleagues Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Alicka Ampry-Samuel to introduce legislation aimed at reforming marijuana offense penalties in multiple city agencies.

“And I hope that these measures will be broadly supported and soon implemented alongside the Mayor’s newly announced reforms,” he said.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said he believe that low level marijuana cases should be responded to with summonses rather than arrests.

He said that, since 2014, the Brooklyn DA’s Office has led the way in declining to prosecute marijuana possession cases, “resulting in a 75 percent decline in arrests citywide and confirming that such policy does not adversely affect public safety.

“Yet, the racial disparities in arrests remain intractable and unacceptable,” Gonzalez said. “So, we need to do more to ensure fairness and trust in our system.”

Three months ago, Gonzalez said his office began a pilot program “in which we declined to prosecute some instances of smoking marijuana in public where a public nuisance was not created, doubling the number of cases we declined to prosecute.”

In the coming weeks, he said his office will work with the NYPD and the mayor “to identify the very small number of exceptions that raise public safety concerns, and any case that does not fall within these exceptions will no longer be prosecuted.”

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