New York’s Marijuana Reform

New York's Marijuana Refore

New York’s Marijuana Reform

After years of discussion, speculation and political maneuvering, New York State has modified its law regarding possession of marijuana. For decades, New York’s antiquated penal law which had criminalized the possession and sale of small quantities of marijuana, disproportionately penalized people of color. While the damage and pain inflicted on multitudes of families cannot be undone, the newly enacted legislation will theoretically put marginalized people on equal footing with other members of society.

The noteworthy provisions of the newly enacted legislation are:

(1) People 21 and older may possess up to three ounces of cannabis and up to 24 grams of concentrated cannabis.

(2) People 21 and older may transfer [as opposed to sell] up to three ounces of cannabis and up to 24 grams of concentrated cannabis without compensation to others who are 21 and older.
(3) Law enforcement will not be permitted to conduct searches of people and vehicles based on the odor of cannabis or burnt cannabis.
(4) People who have been convicted of certain marijuana offenses may have those convictions sealed or expunged.

The reforms were lauded by media, celebrities and self-congratulating politicians; and while they are a positive development after decades of inequitable prosecutions of members of minority communities, the new legislation is by no means a panacea. We at the Law Office of Jeff Henle, P.C. are advising the public to be cautious as people may still become entangled in marijuana-related legal issues despite the recently enacted legislation. We are concerned that changes in the law will present a new set of challenges and hurdles for many of the same people who endured hardship under the repealed marijuana laws.

We at the Law Office of Jeff Henle, P.C. believe the following issues will begin to present themselves:
(1) Marijuana is legal for those 21 and older. Individuals who are 20 and younger could face civil fines and “education” if they are caught possessing marijuana. We are particularly concerned about the potential for harassment by law enforcement should a young person be observed in possession of cannabis.

(2) We are concerned about how law enforcement will address individuals who are suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana. While at present time there is no chemical analysis for marijuana equivalent to a breathalyzer which measures blood alcohol concentration (BAC), it is inevitable that car stops will result in field sobriety tests and driving while ability impaired charges for drivers who allegedly smell like burnt cannabis.

(3) Finally, while there is a provision for past marijuana convictions to be sealed and expunged, no plan was presented for implementation of these sealings and expungements. Thousands of people have been convicted of activity that is no longer criminal. How does New York state plan to seal and expunge the convictions?

We at the Law Office of Jeff Henle, P.C. are pleased that our elected officials finally took substantial steps to correct the law. However, we remind the public that we must always parse through the details of legislation and always remain vigilant.


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