We need a new marijuana enforcement policy in Queens

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The time has come for Queens to follow the lead of Manhattan and Brooklyn and stop prosecuting low-level marijuana possession and smoking cases, once and for all. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s not worth it.

I called for prosecutors to decline these cases in May for three simple reasons: marijuana enforcement in New York City is discriminatory; running people through the criminal justice system for smoking or possessing small amounts of marijuana is completely disproportionate to any possible harm caused to the public; and our law enforcement resources can be better spent combating real crime.

Marijuana enforcement in the five boroughs is completely unfair. While studies consistently show that white and black people smoke marijuana at nearly the same rate, enforcement has overwhelmingly fallen on communities of color. In 2017, 86 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in New York City were either Black or Latino. Nor can disproportionate enforcement be explained by 311 or 911 complaints from the community, where the NYPD’s own data show that many minority neighborhoods with few marijuana complaints had significant numbers of arrests and summonses.

Consider the 105th Precinct in southeast Queens, whose residents lodged only 253 marijuana complaint calls last year, but whose officers made or issued over 2,500 arrests or criminal summonses — more than twice as many as any other precinct in New York City. As a recent New York Times headline put it, “Surest Way to Face Marijuana Charges in New York: Be Black or Hispanic.”

The impact of an arrest or criminal summons, and the possibility of a lifetime criminal record, also has to be considered. A night spent in jail is no joke. Nor are the collateral consequences of a guilty plea or conviction: you can lose your job, your housing, even your access to a student loan. And if you’re not a citizen, it could get you deported. Even a simple criminal summons can lead to an open warrant if the individual misses even one court date, which can dramatically escalate even the most benign future encounters with law enforcement. Does smoking a joint really merit bringing down the heavy hammer of the criminal justice system on someone’s head?

Plus, these prosecution policies are a tremendous waste of taxpayer resources and divert law enforcement attention away from more serious crime. Crime is generally down in New York City, but that doesn’t mean serious violent crime has disappeared completely. From January to the end of July 2018, reported rapes were up 38 percent in Queens over the same period last year. Police and prosecutors have better things to do than making busts in black neighborhoods for low-level marijuana possession.

In response to building pressure to reform this broken system, Mayor Bill de Blasio established a new marijuana policing policy. But it is full of exceptions based on a person’s prior exposure to the criminal justice system that undermine its goal and will likely make marijuana enforcement even more discriminatory toward people of color.

Therefore, it is up to our prosecutors to take a stand and put an end to marijuana prosecutions. The police can’t police what prosecutors won’t prosecute.

Take a look at what is going on in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced that, as of this week, his office will decline to prosecute almost all marijuana cases. And Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez expanded his office’s non-prosecution policy to include marijuana smoking cases, after a pilot project produced a staggering 91 percent reduction in low-level marijuana prosecutions.

Queens should not have to wait any longer for a sensible and fair marijuana enforcement policy. I urge the Queens District Attorney’s Office to take bold action that will move our borough forward, and keep individuals out of the criminal justice system.

Rory I. Lancman

City Councilman (D-Hillcrest)

Updated 10:37 am, August 3, 2018
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Reader feedback

Poor parents from Queens says:
I feel sorry for the poor parents in Queens if police stop responding to pot smoking complaints. Police do not actively seek out pot smokers. The arrests they make are generally a result of residents' complaints. Now parents and grand parents who call 311 to complain about smoking in their courtyard, in front of their building, etc will be told to get lost. Real nice.
Aug. 3, 2:28 pm
THINK from Queens says:
Could it be that Black and Hispanic people are doing it out in public on streets, sidewalks, in front of apt buildings, etc in greater numbers than non Black & Hispanic smokers. Having lived in both a community of color, a white community and a mixed community, the community of color always seemed to have more people smoking pot totally out in the open both in the daytime and nighttime than the other communities I lived in.
Aug. 3, 5:42 pm
James from South Ozone says:
Lancman's logic makes no sense even in regards to the 311 or 911 complaints. If some made a complaint on several people, say 7 guys smoking dope in front an apartment building, that means SEVEN summons, not 1. AND what about officers just patrolling the area and seeing people smoking dope, that means summons as well. I see way more people smoking dope in Jamaica out in public than I do people smoking dope out in public in Forest Hills or Upper East Side or Flushing. Certain areas tend to do it more hanging out in public as opposed in someone house or apartment, especially in areas like Jamaica and SE Queens, which tends to be more people of color. So this logic if his makes no sense. It is blatant that he is pandering to the votes of people of color.
Aug. 4, 10:28 am
lisa from Flushing says:
Although I agree with Mr Lancmans mission on his " system reform, I strongly dissagree his logic on
the POT" issues. I strongly agree with all the responders here. It iss US the neighborhood people who call 311 to get the dope smokers off our neighborhoods and we need our police to do this. Neighborhoods in Jamaica NY, where we have our courthouses are the worst areas where we have to come to work from afar and work in a non safe community with people strewn by the subways and streets on drug induced stupors. Mr Lancman wants nothing to be done about this. Perhaps Mr. Lancman should discolose his address and have dope smokers all day and night in front of his house and family. Dope is dope and we are battling the biggest drug epidemic since the 1970s. He should focus instead in helping the drug epidemic and the suffering inflicted on their families instead of trying to create a bigger drug epidemic. We don't need more pot smoking in our parks, in front of schools or more chaos in our homes. We need to instead focus on stopping the distribution of all drugs and target on getting the dealers off our street and targeting our your children. I am sure Mr. Lancman would not like his children smoking dope. So while a small possesion of Pot should not land somone in Rickers, or cause the to loose their jobs and carriers, cause bad credit, loose their licenses, etc., there is still laws that must exist. So if this Democrat, Mr. Lancman wants to make an impact, he should concentrate on coming up with a plan that is both good for the country and communities instead of encouraging more future chaos with the drug epidemic we already face.
Aug. 6, 2:42 pm
Nick from SE Queens says:
Here is a thought: How about NOT smoking pot in public, which is illegal as is drinking in public. I agree that one should not have to go to jail for smoking pot (AND pot should be legal). BUT even if it is legal as in other states, it is still illegal to smoke in public. SO AGAIN: Don't smoke in public. WHY does this city always have to pander to law breakers. You don't want to get a summons, arrested in put in jail, then DON'T do illegal things, plain and simple. There are consequences for behaviors and actions.

So this hack pandering Lancman misses the whole point. AND the enforcement is not unfair, it just happens that more people of color are smoking out in public more than others. Go visit Jamaica Queens, the wild wild west of Queens.
Aug. 6, 5:35 pm
Helton from Flushing says:

You state the case clearly against Lancman.

However, I would like to point out that this city did not always pander to lawbreakers. That policy was done only by the lazy, corrupt, and selfish DeBozo.

Rudy didn't do it and neither did Bloomberg, who was a liberal. Bloomberg was, as Ed Koch once described himself, a liberal with sanity.
Aug. 7, 11:20 am
Kenny from Bayside says:
Hey, public pot smokers; Feel free to toke in front of 76-21 176th Street in Fresh Meadows. Maybe Mrs Lancman will treat you to cookies and cupcakes to satisfy those cravings!
Aug. 7, 5:56 pm
Cecilia from East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY says:
THINK from Queens:
I couldn't agree with you more. I used to be a Queens resident and am a North Brooklyn resident in the East Williamsburg community for 24 & 1/2 yrs and am a resident in a NYCHA Development. Not too recently, they put in place an ordinance forbidding of lighting up and smoking of cigarettes, other tobacco products and e-cigarettes in one's apartment, in the stairwells and within 25 feet of any NYCHA development or fines will be handed out, but they say virtually nothing of the smoking of MaryJ, pot, weed in NYCHA developments. It happens so very often that these kinds of people that you pointed out and I'm of Hispanic culture and heritage, but am NOT a smoker of any kind, not even of MaryJ, pot, nor weed.

It seems that it's wrong on every level for residents to be forbidden to smoke in their apartments or anywhere in the developments, but there complete silence on the issue of smoking MaryJ, pot, weed whose smell is horrendous.

So not smoking tobacco products is now forbidden, but they're okay with the other kind of smoking!?

It doesn't because it seems these so-called leader are users of these products themselves and is why they're making these foolish decisions!!. SMH!!

If it's forbidden to smoke tobacco products, the same should apply to the smoking of MaryJ, pot, weed!!
Aug. 10, 9:02 am

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