New York Legalizes Marijuana, Expunging Tens of Thousands of Felony Drug Records

checklist that reads, "legalize marijuana?" with pot leaf and marijuana on top

On Wednesday, March 31, 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill (S.854-A/A.1248-A) that legalizes recreational, adult-use marijuana in the state of New York.

What Legalization Means

According to The New York Times:

New Yorkers are now allowed to possess up to three ounces of cannabis for recreational use or 24 grams of concentrated cannabis, such as oils derived from a cannabis plant.”

Adults 21 years of age and older can also smoke, ingest, consume, and even share these products with other adults in private and in some public locations. The state’s medical marijuana program will become less restrictive, and recreational growers can cultivate up to 6 plants at home.

Expunged Drug Records

Additionally, the legislation will expunge the felony drug records of tens of thousands of people. Once again, The New York Times explains:

People with certain marijuana-related convictions for activity that is no longer criminalized will have their records automatically expunged.”

Remedying Racial Disparities

This is huge news for minority communities that have been destroyed in the so-called war on drugs, and the bill is designed to reduce racial disparities regarding marijuana use and enforcement. Data from the New York Police Department (NYPD) reveals that 94% of those arrested for marijuana last year were Black or Hispanic. Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes tells NPR that felony records have “ruined lives and devastated communities.” Championed by Peoples-Stokes, the new legislation addresses these problems by investing 40% of New York’s future marijuana tax revenue in neighborhoods harmed by drug arrests and creating pathways for people of color to get involved in the newly legalized industry.

Meanwhile, selling and possessing marijuana remains a federal crime, and marijuana is still illegal in many states. Because of the costs and associated hurdles of getting involved with the legal pot industry, many dealers continue to do business within illegal markets nationwide.

Further, possessing more than the permitted amount of marijuana, driving under the influence of marijuana, or selling the drug without a license can still lead to criminal drug charges – even in New York.

Caveats aside, officials hope the new law will address some racial disparities while keeping all communities safe, but for now, New Yorkers can smoke weed wherever they can smoke cigarettes, and the first legal sales should open in 2022.

What Does This Mean for Me?

If marijuana-related charges appear on your criminal record, they should disappear on their own. If they do not, or you have any questions about your charges, you should speak to an attorney.

Police officers can no longer arrest you for smoking marijuana in public or private, nor can they stop and search you because you smell like weed. If you get caught smoking in a place where marijuana use is not permitted, you can receive a civil penalty of $25 or up to 20 hours of community service.

Remember, driving under the influence of any drugs – including marijuana and alcohol – is still illegal, and you must follow state regulations to avoid criminal charges.

At The Law Offices of Elliot S. Kay, we understand that change takes time, and there may be some confusion as New York adjusts to its new legislation. We will use our years of legal experience to clarify misunderstandings, identify important details, and develop a case strategy that works for you.

If you face drug charges, need to expunge old convictions, or face any difficulties with law enforcement, please call us at (646) 759-9233 or contact us online to tell us your side of the story.