The speaker and Sharpton both compared the impact of pot arrests on minorities with past police stop-and-frisk street tactics, which de Blasio attacked five years ago as a candidate. On Tuesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced his office would decline to take up those cases, effective August 1.
"The dual mission of the Manhattan DA's Office is a safer NY and a more equal justice system", Vance said. Research has found no good evidence that marijuana arrests are associated with reductions in serious crime in New York City. "We are in discussions with the mayor and police commissioner to consider limited exceptions to this policy, the goal of which is to radically reduce the criminal prosecution of these offenses".
"The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals", Vance said in a prepared statement.
"I am disappointed that there is racial disparity in arrests, as I have been and was in the leadership on stop-and-frisk, and I want to see it corrected", Sharpton said, responding to a reporter's question about de Blasio's attitude toward the issue. "We need an honest assessment about why they exist". They cited a council analysis of police statistics that found 86 percent of people arrested for public pot smoking in the most populous US city were black or Hispanic.
The mayor's comments, delivered at a progressive policy conference in Washington that he had already planned to attend, came as the district attorneys in Brooklyn and Manhattan were working on plans to stop prosecuting the vast majority of people arrested for marijuana.
The DA's office said this creates enormous costs for the legal system and alienates too many people.
Such arrests can significantly impact job searches, schooling, family members, immigration status, and community involvement.
It is part of a wider effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NY police department to review how law enforcement deals with low-level marijuana crime.
Possession of up to 25 grams (less than an ounce) of marijuana is punishable by a US$100 fine on first offence in NY, rising to US$200 second time around.
Last week, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Liz Krueger were joined by organizations and groups dedicated to criminal justice reform, civil rights, and public health as they stood in support of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), a bill that would legalize the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21.
NY is one of 29 USA states to have legalised marijuana for medical use to help patients with cancer, HIV, Parkinson's, epilepsy and other conditions.