District attorney candidate: Pot-smokers won’t get criminal records

Abe George throws down gauntlet against DA Hynes
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Let’s lighten up on tokers lighting up, says district attorney candidate Abe George.

The aspiring top prosecutor — who is running against longtime district attorney Charles Hynes — says he’ll blaze ahead with steps to decriminalize marijuana if he’s elected to office, even if politicians in Albany fail to do the same.

“We don’t have to wait for New York state legislature to act,” said George, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan and a Sheepshead Bay native. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen with them, but rather than wait, we can do this ourselves.”

George says that if he’s elected in the 2013 election, he will not hit people caught with relatively small amounts of marijuana — up to 25 grams — with misdemeanors, opting instead to give them violations, “noncriminal offenses” that normally don’t appear on criminal records.

The move would let Brooklyn prosecutors focus on more serious crimes, George claims.

“We lead the city in homicides and we have no cyber crime unit,” he said. “Let’s take the resources we spend here and refocus them in areas that are more important.”

Marijuana enforcement is a major burden on the police force and the city’s courts system — cops arrest 140 people citywide for marijuana possession every day, making it the most common cause of arrest in the city, according to data from 2010. Experts contend that arrests for marijuana possession cost the city $75 million a year.

Pot smokers currently caught with 25 grams of the plant face misdemeanor charges only if their weed was in public view — but critics claim those busted in the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program are often ordered to empty their pockets, effectively putting their weed in public view and setting them up for misdemeanors.

Hynes says that George’s policy is similar to his own, and says he backs a piece of legislation introduced by Gov. Cuomo that called for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana — but that plan went up in smoke in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

So until pot is legal, Hynes favors issuing otherwise-law-abiding tokers an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal” — meaning courts dismiss their case after 12 months so long as defendants stay out of trouble.

“In the meantime, my policy is a presumptive [adjournment in contemplation of dismissal] for anyone arrested in Brooklyn who has no prior criminal record.”

George says he would go even further and halt the NYPD from conducting stop-and-frisk searches, reducing marijuana arrests and ending a policy that he claims blatantly disregards civil rights.

“Marijuana has been a pathway for getting minorities in trouble for too long — these misdemeanors justify these illegal stop and frisks,” he said.

That said, George says he’s not worried about being painted as soft on crime.

“I’m not the long-haired hippie guy,” said George, who is bald. “I’ve been prosecutor for eight years and I understand that this is something we should not be spending our resources on.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. Follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.