Speaker Carl Heastie, Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes and Codes Committee Chair Joseph R. Lentol today announced that the Assembly has passed legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and expunge the records of those with low-level convictions (A.8420-A, Peoples-Stokes).
The drug laws that are currently on the books have devastated our communities by disproportionately targeting people of color, forcing them to live with a criminal record that makes it harder to get a job or find housing, said Speaker Heastie. Decriminalizing marijuana, paired with expunging records for these low-level offenses, will help undo some of these decades long injustices, and allow for people to be productive and successful. This is not the final step, but it will lay the groundwork for full decriminaliza`e law by defining unlawful possession in the first degree as possessing more than one ounce of marijuana, which would result in a maximum of a $200 fine. Unlawful possession of marijuana in the second degree would result in a maximum of a $50 fine.
Todays bill would also ease the burden on New Yorkers, especially people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by current drug laws, who are living with a criminal record as a result of the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This criminal record can make it difficult for people to find gainful employment, housing and obtain other basic services. To rectify that injustice, the legislation would expunge the records of those with certain misdemeanor marijuana related records and or charges. The chief administrator of the courts would also be required to notify the commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the heads of all appropriate police departments and law enforcement agencies that the charges and records have been expunged. Additionally the chief administrator of the courts would ensure that no written or electronic report of a criminal history record search conducted by the Office of Court Administration contains information relating to said expunged record.
This measure will help communities that have been directly impacted by marijuana criminalization, addressing the rampant disparity that exists in these drug charges, and will help remove the stigma attached to marijuana.