DA moves to vacate over 3,500 marijuana cases, virtually clearing docket of Brooklyn weed charges

DA Gonzalez continues to send people to rikers island
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
File photo by Colin Mixson

Brooklyn’s top prosecutor on Tuesday asked a judge to vacate over 3,500 marijuana cases, a move the Brooklyn District Attorney says will virtually clear the docket of borough-wide weed-related proceedings.

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez appeared before Criminal Court Judge Keshia Espinal, along with Bahar Ansari of the Legal Aid Society and Yung Mi-Lee of Brooklyn Defenders representing the defendants in the cases, on July 26 to ask that 3,578 cases be dismissed, and that any associated warrants be vacated and guilty pleas be withdrawn.

The cases are mostly for possession, with some cases involving the sale of the drug being in the batch as well. Most of the cases remained on the docket because the defendants had open warrants against them, according to the DA’s office.

While the Brooklyn DA has moved to dismiss marijuana cases en masse before, Gonzalez noted that this time, it was in a state that had both legalized marijuana and provided for automatic expungement of existing cases.

“Yet, there remains a number of cases in the system that are plagued by the same systemic issues inherent to the previous models of arrest and prosecution,” he said. “These arrests ruined the lives of thousands of people over the years, saddling many with criminal convictions that prevented them from pursuing opportunities in life.”

Espinal granted the motion to dismiss the cases. The DA says that only eight marijuana cases now remain pending in Brooklyn Criminal Court, all related to impaired driving. Marijuana charges in felony cases before the State Supreme Court will be “dismissed in the course of court proceedings,” according to a statement.

The cases will be vacated in 90 days, so as to allow the state’s Office of Court Administration to do the administrative work related to dropping the cases, Gonzalez said.

“I hope that these actions will help strengthen community trust in the justice system and allow us to continue moving forward with more fairness and equity,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

The Brooklyn DA’s office had significantly reduced its prosecution of marijuana cases since Ken Thompson took office in 2014, with Gonzalez continuing that trend after assuming the office upon Thompson’s death in 2016. The office in 2018 started a program to expunge past marijuana convictions.

Marijuana was legalized in New York as part of the state budget this year. The NYPD’s most recent data shows the Department made 163 arrests for marijuana possession in the first quarter of 2021, including 42 in Brooklyn. As in years past, the arrests were overwhelmingly against Black and Hispanic people: of the 163 arrestees, 148 were Black or Hispanic.

A spokesperson for the DA’s office could not confirm what would come of the 42 marijuana arrests in Brooklyn this year, but reiterated that only the eight impaired driving cases and those attached to more serious felonies remain on the docket.