Thirty-five people who had outstanding warrants in Buffalo City Court on low-level marijuana charges saw the cases dismissed and sealed Friday morning following a request from Erie County's top prosecutor.
District Attorney John J. Flynn asked Chief City Court Judge Thomas P. Amodeo to vacate the bench and arrest warrants and dismiss the cases in which a person faced only a misdemeanor charge or a non-criminal violation for marijuana possession.
The warrants were issued between April 2009 and last October. The cases involved persons who faced charges of marijuana possession only and no other charges on the same docket, the district attorney said.
Flynn said he made the request because he felt it would not be fair to people to have such charges “hanging over their head” as the state moves toward legalizing recreational marijuana and after Mayor Byron W. Brown last week directed Buffalo police to stop making arrests for low-level marijuana possession.
Flynn, who said he met with representatives of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office Thursday in New York City, said he has been given a “strong indication” state lawmakers and Cuomo will come to a deal on marijuana legalization sometime before the legislative session ends in June.
Flynn, who told the judge he was making the request "in the interest of justice," said he believes he is the first district attorney in upstate New York to make such a move. He added that the forthcoming marijuana legislation will provide guidance to county prosecutors about how prior convictions and pending marijuana possession cases are to be treated.
Most of the 35 people who had their cases dropped were from the Western New York area, Flynn said.
While he said he takes no position on whether there should be changes to the state’s marijuana laws, a disproportionate number of minorities have faced marijuana possession charges compared to whites, despite similar usage rates across the populations.
Of the cases tossed on Friday, 28 of the defendants were minorities, Flynn said.
“That right there shows you the numbers are skewed,” he said.
All 35 defendants were being represented by the Public Defender's Office, which will be notified about the cases.
Prosecutors in the district attorney’s office are in the process of gathering information about the same type of warrants in each of the village and town courts in the county. His office will make the same requests in those courts within the next month or so, he said.
During his State of the City address last Friday, Brown announced he was directing the Buffalo Police Department to “stop enforcing low-level marijuana possession offenses.” City police made fewer than 200 “marijuana only” arrests in 2018, the mayor said.