By Norma Lewis, JD
There was quite a bit of excitement, relief, and joy, and a few spiffs smoked when New York legalized recreational marijuana. Several advocates and lawmakers welcomed it as one of the most progressive cannabis laws in the country. That’s in part because it automatically clears the criminal records of people with certain marijuana-related offenses. “For generations, too many New Yorkers have been unfairly penalized for the use and sale of adult-use cannabis, arbitrarily arrested and jailed with harsh mandatory minimum sentences,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a news release. “After years of tireless advocacy and extraordinarily hard work, that time is coming to an end in New York State.”
To right the wrongs of our failed drug war against the sale and recreational use of cannabis sativa, also known as “marijuana”, on March 31, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) into law. The law eliminates penalties for possession of less than three ounces of cannabis. Provisions in the law legalizing the personal possession of up to three ounces of cannabis and/or up to 24 grams of concentrates for those ages 21 and older took immediate effect.
The new law also establishes procedures for the automatic review and expungement of the criminal records of those with low-level cannabis convictions. Under the law, the smell of marijuana alone is no longer probable cause for a search by law enforcement. Use of cannabis in public may be subject to civil penalties. Possession of marijuana in excess of three ounces is a Class A misdemeanor and is punishable by no more than one year of imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $1,000. Possession of marijuana in excess of 8 ounces – 16 ounces is a Class E felony and is punishable by no more than four years of imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $5,000.
Listen to “Legalization of Marijuana in NY” Podcast by Attorney Brian Figeroux below:
Possession of marijuana in excess of 16 ounces – 10 pounds is a class D felony and is punishable by no more than seven years of imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $5,000. Possession of marijuana in excess of 10 pounds is a class C felony and is punishable by no more than 15 years of imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $15,000. The recently passed law decriminalizes marijuana in New York and allows those previously convicted of certain marijuana-related crimes to seek post-conviction relief (PCR) from the court. While this has far-reaching consequences for every New Yorker, it is crucial for non-citizens whose status can be jeopardized by a marijuana-related criminal conviction.
•First, with the passage of the New York Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), there are still significant immigration consequences for marijuana violations including in some circumstances deportation, being denied admission to the U.S., being denied permanent residency, or a green card, or being denied naturalization.
•Second, those who have already been convicted of possessing marijuana of up to one ounce or publicly using marijuana can seek relief to have those convictions expunged or vacated. In both cases, the convictions will be effectively removed from your criminal record. However, an expunged conviction can still be the basis for negative immigration consequences, including deportation and removal. On the other hand, a vacated conviction cannot. Thus a legal immigrant previously convicted on marijuana charges should, if possible, seek vacatur of their previous charges to protect their immigration status. They may need to hire a lawyer to file a 440 Motion/Application in the District Attorney’s office or county of the underlying arrest.
•If you face a challenge to your legal status due to a previous marijuana conviction or are having trouble with any other immigration issue, please call the attorneys at the Law Firm of Figeroux & Associates. They will help you through the process of vacating your previous charges, protecting your rights, and giving you the best chance possible at maintaining your legal residency and applying for U.S. citizenship.