Expanded marijuana decriminalization takes effect

Dear friend,

New York’s new marijuana decriminalization law takes effect today.

I sponsored the 1977 law that first decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, making possession of fewer than 25 grams (about 7/8 oz.) only a violation punishable by a fine, legally not a “crime.”

At the time, negotiations with the Republican State Senate required us to keep the “decriminalization” quantity below an ounce and keep possession in “public view” a misdemeanor. For over 20 years, that wasn’t a big problem. But increased use of “stop and frisk” meant that year after year, tens of thousands young people – almost all people of color – were ordered to “empty their pockets” and get arrested for a misdemeanor and stigmatized with a criminal record for the rest of their lives. This recent New York Times story tells the story very well.

With the new Democratic majority in the State Senate, the new law restores what we had to bargain away back in 1977, especially eliminating the “public view” provision. It also helps undo the human damage done by those criminal records. Criminal records for conduct that wouldn’t be a crime under the new law will be “expunged:” legally and physically erased.

The new law, which I co-sponsored, includes:
-Elimination of the “public view” misdemeanor provision.
-The “decriminalized” quantity level is now 1 oz., not 25 grams.
-The penalty is lowered from $100 to $50.
-Changes possession of up to 2 oz., from being a misdemeanor to a violation, with a penalty of up to $200.
-Automatic record expungement for past possession arrests and convictions for amounts and offenses that are now “decriminalized” under this law.

It is not yet clear how the courts and law enforcement will make the “automatic” expungement work. Sealing of records should be automatic. Actually erasing the record will require some action by the defendant, because some defendants will need proof for federal immigration purposes what the case was about and that it has been cleared.

This is a great step forward for social justice. But we still need to pas the bill to legalize, regulate and tax adult use of marijuana, sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo, which I co-sponsor. Peoples-Stokes was the lead sponsor of the new law.

If you have questions about the new law, please feel free to contact my office. Legal services programs like the Legal Aid Society in New York City are preparing to provide information and assistance.

Very truly yours,
Richard N. Gottfried
Assembly Member