Albany, NY: Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation into law amending marijuana possession penalties and establishing procedures for the automatic expungement of prior, low-level cannabis convictions.
The new law takes effect August 28, 2019.
Specifically, Assembly Bill 8420-A reduces the penalty for minor marijuana possession violations (up to one ounce) to a $50 fine. It also amends penalties for offenses involving the possession of more than one ounce but less than two ounces of cannabis from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to three months in jail) to a non-criminal violation punishable by a $200 fine – regardless of an offender’s prior criminal history.
The new law also amends the classification of offenses involving the use or possession of marijuana in public from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, to a fine-only offense. In New York City alone, police typically make tens of thousands of marijuana arrests annually under the ‘public view’ exception. Over 87 percent of those charged with the crime are either Black or Latino.
Finally, A. 8420-A establishes procedures to allow for the automatic expungement of criminal records specific to crimes involving the possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana. Several hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will be eligible for expungement under the plan.
"Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice once and for all," Governor Cuomo said. "By providing individuals who have suffered the consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction with a path to have their records expunged and by reducing draconian penalties, we are taking a critical step forward in addressing a broken and discriminatory criminal justice process."
Assembly Bill 8420-A was negotiated in the closing days of the 2019 legislative session after lawmakers failed to agree on provisions of a marijuana legalization measure.
For more information, contact Carly Wolf, NORML State Policies Coordinator, at (202) 483-5500, or visit Empire State NORML.