To understand how quickly New York has revised its marijuana laws, look no further than its impact on the criminal justice system.
Fewer and fewer people are being arrested for marijuana-related offenses in New York City, highlighting the major effect of the drug’s decriminalization in 2019 and, ultimately, its legalization last March.
From April to October of this year, only 116 people statewide were arrested for a high-level misdemeanor or felony related to the possession or sale of marijuana in New York City, according to data compiled by the Division. state criminal justice services.
And at the start of October, 11 people remained incarcerated in state prisons with a major felony of criminal sale or possession of first, second or third degree marijuana, according to the State Department of Correction and Correction. community surveillance.
A principal charge is the most serious offense for which a person is arrested.
The drop in marijuana-related arrests was steeply as state lawmakers and the government of the day. Andrew Cuomo reshaped the state’s drug laws.
In 2020, after New York lawmakers took steps to reduce penalties for marijuana, but before legalizing certain amounts of the substance, there were 2,720 arrests for marijuana misdemeanor or felony.
Compare that to 2017, when there were 28,239 arrests for marijuana alone, according to a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Lawyers say the numbers indicate the success of the social justice centering in the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the law approved by Cuomo and lawmakers last March, allowing adult use of marijuana for recreational purposes in the state.
The law immediately allowed possession of up to three ounces of marijuana and eventually will allow New York residents to grow marijuana plants in their homes for recreational purposes. However, selling cannabis without the proper license remains illegal.
Previously, lawmakers voted in 2019 to reduce many marijuana-related crimes to one violation, an offense that would typically result in a ticket.
But advocates also warn that the state’s arrest figures may not show the full extent of the criminalization of marijuana, as people could face other charges based on the presence of marijuana.
Mary Kruger, executive director of the Rochester branch of the National Organization for Marijuana Reform, said the reduced number of arrests is a measure the law is having the intended impact.
She added that the reason advocates fought so hard to get this bill passed was because they didn’t want the harms of the ban to be an afterthought like they were in some other states. .
“But in our legislation” she added, “It was always in the foreground and it was non-negotiable that it was something that was included.”
When the measure was passed in March, the law allowed adults over the age of 21 to carry, display and consume three ounces of marijuana.
Over 100,000 people are expected to be able to have their previous records erased under the new law. The Office of Courts Administration has up to two years to complete the task, although the files are deleted in the meantime.
The law also sets a target of giving 50% of licenses to social equity seekers such as disabled veterans, women and those disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, such as people of color.
It also generally suppresses the ordering of cannabis and the presence of cash near cannabis as a reasonable cause for the commission of a crime.
Law enforcement officers can still use the smell of burnt cannabis when investigating whether a person is driving a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol. But these officers still cannot use the smell of cannabis to search an area of the vehicle that is “Easily accessible to the driver. “
The law also states that possession of more than three ounces of cannabis will be a violation punishable by a fine. There are still criminal offenses for charges such as first degree criminal possession, which states that the person has more than 10 pounds on them.
For the 11 people who remained jailed on marijuana-related charges in New York City, leniency and commutation should be considered for their offenses at “To fulfill some of the promises of legalization”, said Natalie Papillion, Policy Advisor and Director of Strategic Initiatives at The Last Prisoner’s Project.
Launched in 2019, the project was founded from a “Belief that no one should remain in prison for cannabis offenses”, according to its website.
“Some of those 11 people, it could end up being more, may be eligible for relief or release once these re-sentencing provisions have been implemented,” said Papillion. “And so, there are different ways to end cannabis-related incarceration in New York City in the short term. “
The 11 people were sentenced under Penal Code 221, the strictest marijuana law that has since been repealed, according to DOCCS. Four of those people have been convicted this year.
The MRTA allows a re-conviction for certain people convicted of marijuana-related offenses, especially for a person who has been convicted of a charge that is no longer considered illegal.
Joseph Bondy, a New York-based criminal defense and cannabis trade attorney, said few people go to jail for cannabis because they typically plead for an inferior offense.
Bondy noted that arrests are a better measure of the disruption a marijuana offense can have on someone’s life.
Arrests are also down in this category. For example, when New York’s cannabis law was passed in the first quarter of this year, New York City police made about 160 marijuana arrests, according to records. In the third quarter, there were about 25 arrests for marijuana, compared to eight in the second quarter.
Although criminal marijuana laws have been relaxed, Bondy noted, he fears people will still be arrested for cannabis-related offenses. So while the person cannot be charged with a marijuana-related offense, there could be more tax, business and organizational prosecutions.
“So there are going to be a lot more marijuana lawsuits for different things” he said. “Your government will not give up.”
He added, “They don’t just throw in the towel.
Bondy said the marijuana law is a watershed moment. And that many of the clients he once criminally represented are looking for new opportunities to join the legalized market.
“It is magic,” he said, noticing the change in fortune.
Includes reporting from Team New York State Editor Jon Campbell.