New York Makes History: Wiping Slates Clean

Marijuana use has become a hot and controversial topic over the past several years.  Many states have begun to legalize it in some form, with several leading the way for the legalization of recreational use.  Furthermore, many have begun to push for decriminalization policies, with some states beginning to implement these changes.  New York has paved the way for more than 150,000 people to have their marijuana convictions expunged from their records.

A new bill that was recently passed, has taken steps to decriminalize marijuana in cases were a person was caught possessing two ounces or less, abolishing criminal penalties.  In cases where a person is caught possessing less than an ounce of the substance, they will only be penalized with a small fine of $50.00.  For those in possession of between 1 and 2 ounces of marijuana, penalties will include a maximum fine of only $200.00.  Additionally, prior criminal history will not be considered in these cases.

This bill seeks to better address the drug crisis we have seen over the last several decades.  Many people currently fill our nation’s jail cells due to simple possession charges.  Allowing past marijuana convictions to be expunged gives many convicted “criminals” a new lease on life.  Furthermore, it helps to address the racial disparity that so often has impacted those convicted for drug use.

The bill gives people a chance to start again without a record looming over them when seeking employment, housing, etc.  Thanks to this new legislation, as many as 202,000 convictions from as far back as the 1970’s through the present day will become sealed information.  Additionally, 24,409 people will have their criminal record wiped clean.

This new law will allow all such convictions to be sealed automatically.  For those wishing to have the record destroyed, it will be a lengthier process requiring the person to go to the original court they were convicted at and file a petition.  The new system allows all previous convictions to be sealed, making them impossible to be accessed when conducting a criminal history search.  This system will protect future offenders as well.

The same New York Mayor who has accomplished these first steps is also in favor of total decriminalization of marijuana, as well as the legalized recreational use of the substance.  Despite this, New York failed to pass recreational legalization of marijuana in June 2019.  The mayor continues to advocate for minorities targeted for drug use, going as far as to stop the local police departments from arresting those caught smoking marijuana in public. With such a heated topic, it is apparent policies governing marijuana will continue to be debated.  One thing is clear, this new law has taken huge strides in the decriminalization of marijuana use.