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Prosecutors in NYC's Brooklyn won't pursue low-level pot cases

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Prosecutors in New York City's most populous borough of Brooklyn will no longer prosecute low-level marijuana possession cases, particularly for first-time offenders, the office said on Tuesday.

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who campaigned on limiting criminal penalties for people caught with small amounts of pot, said the new policy will lift the burden placed on the criminal justice system by thousands of low-level arrests that are ultimately dismissed.

The move, which does not affect New York's four other boroughs, comes at a time when states and cities across the United States are adopting more lenient stances on marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law.

"We are pouring money into an endeavor that produces no public safety benefit," Thompson said in a statement. "This policy does not express approval for the use of marijuana and should not be interpreted as such."

The move comes a day after legal marijuana dealers opened their doors in Washington state, which along with Colorado has legalized recreational use of the drug. Fifteen U.S. states have made possessing marijuana a civil offense, and 23 including New York allow medicinal pot.

People caught with marijuana who have limited or no criminal records will have their misdemeanor possession cases dismissed prior to arraignment if they can provide police with a verifiable name and address, he said.

Suspects caught smoking in public, especially in parks, playgrounds and school yards where children might be present, will not be protected under the policy change, the attorney's office noted.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Scott Malone and Sandra Maler)

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