Pass the joint: DA says pot policy is keeping stoners out of jail

Governor will not replace temporary DA
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
Brooklyn District Attorney’s office

Weed rather not jail them.

Brooklyn’s top prosecutor is taking credit for keeping Kings County potheads out of the joint, claiming his decision to expand the district attorney’s non-prosecution policy in the spring has cut the amount of borough marijuana arrests by more than half.

“Earlier this year, we expanded our existing non-prosecution policy to include smoking cases,” said District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. “That pilot policy proved to be effective in dramatically reducing the number of low-level marijuana cases processed in court.”

Gonzalez’s predecessor Ken Thompson instituted the non-prosecution policy after taking office in 2014, claiming New York’s drug laws disproportionately affected Blacks and Hispanics, despite indications that white residents smoke more than their fair share of Kings County’s chronic.

But advocates with the Drug Policy Alliance criticized the program as being too limited in scope, and pointed to statistics that showed prosecutors pursued charges in 80 percent of all Kings County pot busts in 2016.

In response, Gonzalez formed a think tank that included local pot experts from the Drug Policy Alliance to explore options for expanding the policy, and this spring announced that his office would let most stoners caught smoking in public off the hook.

And whether a direct result of Gonzalez’s discretionary pot prosecution or not, small-time pot busts are way down in Brooklyn, with 425 arrests in January versus 168 in June, according to the district attorney’s statistics.

And of those pot arrests in June, only 29 found their way to criminal court, versus the 349 possession cases that were prosecuted in January, Gonzalez said.

The district attorney’s office still reserves the right to prosecute stoners caught lighting up in public, but only in certain limited cases, such as while driving, while riding public transportation, or when in close proximity to schools.

And since reefer madness appears to have spread from the district attorney’s office to the police department, Borough President Eric Adams praised Gonzalez for exercising his prosecutorial discretion for the benefit of his constituent tokers.

“I commend the Brooklyn district attorney’s office for leading the effort to create a more equitable justice system that is fair and smart,” Adams said.

The city is also in the process of implementing new protocols when it comes to the sticky icky. Mayor DeBlasio announced in June that, beginning Sept. 1, anyone caught smoking weed in public — but without a criminal record — would be issued a summons in lieu of arrest, a policy shift his office estimates will lead to 10,000 fewer arrests next year.

A spokesman for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association declined to comment regarding Gonzalez’s pot policy. The Drug Policy Alliance also declined to comment about the district attorney’s expansion of the non-prosecution policy.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.