June 21, 2019

Assembly Passes Legislation to Decriminalize Marijuana
Legislation also includes provisions to expunge the records for those with low-level marijuana offenses, which disproportionately effect communities of color

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 decriminalization and legalization in the future."

"By passing this bill, we will bring hope and relief to thousands of New Yorkers through the expungement of low-level marijuana records and by preventing unnecessary arrests for small amounts of marijuana," Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes said. "This is an important first step to take towards marijuana justice, but there is more to be done. I will continue fighting for communities and people most harmed by the war on drugs, and remain committed to establishing wide ranging marijuana-related policies that will improve lives and provide for community investment."

"The discrimination that has been shown, especially in New York City, in the way these drug laws have been applied to minorities for use of marijuana is really a testimony to how important decriminalization is," said Assemblymember Lentol. "This legislation is a step in the right direction for bringing equity to our criminal justice system."

Under current law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is punishable only by a fine for the first offense, but once the small amount is open to public view or being burned, it is often charged as a misdemeanor. This bill would eliminate the discrepancy in the 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.

Today's 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.