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Manhattan DA's office drops more than 3,000 open marijuana cases

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance on Wednesday dropped more than 3,000 open marijuana smoking and possession cases dating back to 1978, saying the action would serve justice and address racial disparities in the prosecution of marijuana offenses.

Vance moved to vacate 3,042 outstanding warrants and dismiss the underlying charges before New York City Criminal Court Judge Kevin McGrath. The judge said the cases must be sealed within 90 days.

The district attorney’s decision applies to misdemeanor and violation cases in which a warrant was issued because the defendant failed to appear in court. It does not apply to any cases where a defendant was convicted, or to more serious charges like selling marijuana.

“By vacating these warrants, we are preventing unnecessary future interactions with the criminal justice system,” Vance said in court.

“We made the decision that it is really in the interest of justice,” Vance said at a press conference in court after making his motion. He added that dropping the charges would remove a burden from his office and the court system.

“We have to actually look at what resources we have, what resources the court has,” he said.

Vance announced earlier this year that his office would no longer prosecute marijuana smoking and possession cases. The decision was part of a nationwide trend among state and local governments to ease enforcement or legalize the drug.

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky