If Brooklyn’s new district attorney has his way, marijuana will effectively be decriminalized in the borough. In his inaugural address on Sunday, Ken Thompson vowed to end the prosecution of low-level marijuana arrests.
“I not only want to keep Brooklyn safe, I want to protect the future of our youth,” Thompson, who is the borough’s first black district attorney, said. “That means we must change the policy regarding those who are arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana.”
“In 2012, over 12,000 people in Brooklyn were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana, mostly young, black men,” he said, referring to a 2013 report that found that in Brooklyn, black people are nine times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York is only a crime if it’s in public view. New York City averaged fewer than 2,000 marijuana arrests a year up until 1993. But under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, police would stop and frisk people on the street, bringing marijuana into “public view” and arresting them. By 2011, there were over 50,000 such arrests citywide, more than all the marijuana arrests from 1978 to 1996 combined.
“Every year, thousands of these cases are clogging our criminal justice system and require that we devote substantial resources in time and in money that we could use to put toward other initiatives to keep us safe,” Thompson said. “And so if these defendants are given criminal records instead of violations, it would make it harder for them in the future to live productive lives. We in Brooklyn can, and must, do better.”
During his run for district attorney, Thompson pledged not to prosecute people arrested for under 15 grams of pot, issuing a $100 fine instead. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is on board with Thompson’s plan.
“He can’t pass legislation to legalize marijuana but he can decide who will be prosecuted for it, and I think it’s an excellent way to use his office,” Adams said.