Over 100,00 New Yorkers Will Have their Marijuana Convictions Sealed

New York is starting the process of expunging the marijuana convictions of thousands of New Yorkers after a new state law decriminalized marijuana. More than 150,000 New Yorkers will have their marijuana possession convictions sealed.

The new law, which was signed in July, eliminated criminal penalties for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. It also reduced the penalty for possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana to a $50 fine, regardless of criminal history, CNN reported. People found possessing between 1 and 2 ounces of the drug will face a maximum fine of $200. The law took effect on August 28.

“For too long communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana and have suffered the life-long consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement, adding that it was the start of a “new chapter” in the criminal justice system.

“By providing individuals a path to have their records expunged, including those who have been unjustly impacted based on their race or ethnicity, and reducing the penalty for unlawful possession of marijuana to a fine, we are giving many New Yorkers the opportunity to live better and more productive, successful, and healthier lives,” the Democratic governor continued. Approximately 160,000 New Yorkers with marijuana convictions will have the ability to erase those convictions from their records, a spokeswoman for the State Division of Criminal Justice Services told The New York Times. The spokeswoman added that 10,872 people with convictions in New York City will now have no criminal records in the state and an additional 13,537 in the rest of the state will have their criminal records wiped clean as well.

In his statement, Cuomo said the law is “long overdue,” adding that it is “a significant step forward in our efforts to end this repressive cycle and ultimately mend our discriminatory criminal justice process once and for all.”

Officials told The New York Times that the state is still developing a method to expunge the records. While the law does not eliminate a person’s past criminal convictions, it seals arrests and conviction records. People will need to petition the courts in the jurisdiction where their convictions occurred to have the actual records destroyed.

“As of today we, along with New York State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, have suppressed any indication of past cases in a criminal records history search,” Lucian Chalfen, spokesperson for the New York State Unified Court System, told CNN. “On previously disposed marijuana cases, our system currently seals them post-conviction and will continue to function the way it is currently working.”

While the law now decriminalizes possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana, Legal Aid Society attorney Emma Goodman warned that violations can still have long-term consequences. “It’s still something that shows up on your record and stays with you for a very long time,” Goodman told Gothamist. “And it can affect your ability to get jobs and housing and all of the things that criminal convictions can affect.”

A February study from John Jay College that looked at arrests in the state of New York from 1990 to 2017 discovered that “Blacks and Hispanics consistently had higher rates of arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession compared to whites. Arrest numbers from the NYPD for this year show that Black and Brown New Yorkers still face higher arrest rates and violation charges than their white peers.

In the first half of 2019, police made about 750 arrests for the now-discontinued misdemeanor. Nearly 8,000 marijuana-related violations summonses were recorded during that time. Black and Hispanic people were overwhelmingly targeted for marijuana summonses, police records show.

A majority of those arrests involved Black and Hispanic people. Black people made up nearly 60 percent of criminal possession of marijuana arrests in the first half of 2019. Hispanics comprised more than 30 percent of those arrests. White people, on the other hand, made up less than 4 percent of the arrests.

Small amounts of marijuana were first decriminalized in the state in 1977, according to The New York Times. New York later legalized a restricted medical marijuana program in 2014.

Nationwide, more than 30 states have legalized medical marijuana and 11 states have legalized recreational use.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.