July 8, 2014

Smoking It Up In Brooklyn

New Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced today that his office will no longer prosecute people for possessing small amounts of marijuana, with certain exceptions. Good news for potheads, right? Not so fast.

NYPD Commissioner Bratton responded by saying that the police have no intention of rolling back on weed arrests, even though the DA's office won't prosecute. This clash of policies suggests lots of people will still be arrested for smoking pot, brought to their local area precinct, held and processed, eventually transported to central booking, and then, some 15 to 24 hours after their arrest, let out the back door. All in all, not the best use of NYPD resources.

It's an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, Thompson knows how absurd the City's enforcement of marijuana can be, and that the NYPD appears to disproportionately target people of color. On the other hand, Bratton is responsible for enforcing the law in all five boroughs, and he is correct that the law ought to be applied consistently across the board. You can't have something be legal in Brooklyn but illegal in Queens. Moreover, drug legalization should ultimately be a legislative act, not something done by executive fiat.

Thompson takes care to point out that not every Cheech and Chong can legally light up in public. Kids who are 16 and 17 will be shunted off to drug programs, and those who smoke in public places or around children will be charged. Similarly, folks with open warrants, violent felons, suspected dealers, and repeat possession offenders will all be prosecuted.

The exceptions almost swallow the rule. They also beg the question of whether Thompson's plan makes any sense to begin with. If smoking pot around kids is criminal and should be punished, why is it not so bad if you walk down the block and do it? And what is this 'repeat possession' nonesense? The guidelines are so loosey-goosey, whether one is prosecuted may come down to nothing more than which ADA happens to be working in ECAB that night. (ECAB being the unit that makes the initial decision whether to charge).

In the short run, the new policy probably won't have much affect on arrest numbers, and it won't impact on civil rights cases, since the laws banning marijuana are still in effect. In fact, Thompson's announcement may be all, ahem, all smoke and no substance. Still, it's a first step, and not surprisingly, it has come from Ken Thompson.


  1. So long as Cheech and Chong are left out of it.

    1. Hey now, what's wrong with Cheech and Chong?