The Westchester County District Attorney’s Office said it will no longer prosecute what it deems to be “low-level” marijuana offenses.
Under this new policy, the possession of two ounces or less of marijuana will no longer result in a criminal conviction.
Two laws will be affected laws by this change, which took effect Jan. 14:
• Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fifth Degree (Class B misdemeanor): A person convicted of this crime was guilty of illegally possessing marijuana in a public place or having more than 25 grams of marijuana on them (there are about 28 grams to an ounce).
• Unlawful Possession of Marijuana (violation): A person in violation of this law illegally possessed any amount of marijuana, regardless of whether that person was in a public place.
The violation will no longer be prosecuted, the DA’s office said.
The misdemeanor charge will only be prosecuted when a person possesses marijuana that is either burning or viewable in a public place, provided it is their lone offense.
“This will avoid the stigma of a criminal record for many of our young people with long-lasting negative consequences disproportionate to the minor nature of the offense,” the DA’s office said.
North Salem Police Chief Thomas Howley was unphased by the news, saying the state police handle all drug arrests.
The office will continue to review the prosecution of other “lower-level” marijuana offenses. Additional changes may be announced.
“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,” said District Attorney Anthony Scarpino. “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.”
Scarpino said this will benefit police departments and prosecutors who can make better use of their resources.
“What has been spent on arrests and prosecutions can now be used to focus on more serious crimes,” Scarpino said.
Scarpino, in the press release, also urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators to “create a uniform approach to prosecuting marijuana offenses and end the disparity currently in place from county to county.”