marijuana
A Brooklyn federal judge said he will no longer re-imprison people for smoking marijuana. Photo: Shutterstock

A federal judge in Brooklyn says that he will no longer send people who have recently been released from prison back behind bars just for smoking marijuana.

Jack B. Weinstein, a United States district court judge for the Eastern District of New York, made the promise in a written opinion on Thursday. Weinstein, who is 96 and was appointed to the court in 1967, cited society’s increasing acceptance of pot for his decision.

“Without addressing the advantages and dangers of the change in criminal laws on smoking marijuana, it is obvious that marijuana use, through law, policy, and social custom, is becoming increasingly accepted by society. Many people from all walks of life now use marijuana without fear of adverse legal consequences,” he wrote. “In New York, where marijuana policy is evolving in favor of decriminalization, serious racial and social-class disparities exist in the enforcement of anti-marijuana laws.”

New York City officials recently announced that they would no longer arrest people for smoking weed in public if they do not have a prior record. While marijuana use is becoming more accepted and allowed on the state level across the country, it is still illegal under federal law, Weinstein noted.

 

Weinstein said that for too long, he has “unjustifiably punished” former inmates for smoking weed while they are under supervised release. Supervised release is intended to help rehabilitate those who recently completed their prison sentence back into their communities. But certain actions during supervised release — like smoking marijuana — can lead to reimprisonment.

“I, like other trial judges, have in many cases imposed longer periods of supervised release than needed, and I, like other trial judges, have failed to terminate supervised release early in many cases where continuing supervision presents such a burden as to reduce the probability of rehabilitation,” Weinstein wrote. “And I, like other trial judges, have provided unnecessary conditions of supervised release and unjustifiably punished supervisees for their marijuana addiction, even though marijuana is widely used in the community and is an almost unbreakable addiction or habit for some.”

Weinstein’s change of heart came as he reviewed the case of Tyran Trotter, a 22-year-old from Queens who spent two years in prison for conspiring to distribute heroin. Trotter was then sentenced to three years of supervised release, during which time he was caught using marijuana.

Officials recommended that he be sent back to prison for that violation, but Weinstein refused to do so, ending his supervised release early instead. If his supervision were to continue, Weinstein wrote, “he will probably end up in the almost endless cycle of supervised release and prison.”

“In summary,” Weinstein wrote, “in this and my future cases I will: (1) impose shorter terms of supervised release as needed; (2) give greater consideration to the appropriateness of conditions; (3) provide for earlier termination where indicated; and (4) avoid violations of supervised release and punishment by incarceration merely for habitual marijuana use.”