Remember that Marijuana is not legal to possess in New York State and that includes New York City.
While marijuana is trending towards becoming legal in many states, New York has some of the strictest pot laws in the Country. Beware of the fact that while possession of small amounts of marijuana not "in public view" was "technically" decriminalized in 1977, people smoking or possessing marijuana in public view can still be charged and convicted of a crime under Penal Law 221.10.
Also beware of the recent decision of NYC and the NYPD to stop making arrests and instead handing out summonses for people caught with small amounts of marijuana. That policy change only applies to people who are caught with marijuana but are neither smoking it nor have it in public view. Common sense tells us that most people caught by the police with small amounts of marijuana are going to be smoking it or getting ready to smoke it. Otherwise, they would not be caught with it in the first place.
Getting caught smoking marijuana in New York City or just holding it in public view can still result in an arrest and a trip to jail along with the potential for a criminal record.
Smoking marijuana in public in New York City is a B misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail. While a jail sentence is unlikely, getting arrested usually means getting handcuffed and taken down to the precinct for fingerprints and mugshots and then released with a desk appearance ticket to appear at a New York City Criminal Court. However, if a person is really unlucky, instead of just being released from the precinct after a few hours with a desk appearance ticket, an arrestee may be sent downtown to Manhattan Central Booking where they will sit in a holding cell with hundreds of other recent arrestees waiting to see a judge. A process that has been known to take up to two days.
The bottom line is that it is really foolish to light up a marijuana cigarette anywhere in New York City in a public place where there could be cops lurking about. The NYPD, just like cops everywhere else, are encouraged to enforce laws and make arrests. A marijuana arrest is one of the easiest arrests that a cop can make. So do not make it easy for them to pad their stats and earn some quick overtime by smoking pot in their presence and giving them a perfectly legal reason to arrest you.
However, even some persons who get caught smoking pot in public are "lucky" enough to not get arrested and instead just receive a summons to appear in criminal court. That means that they are not handcuffed and tossed into the back of police car for a ride to the nearest precinct for fingerprints and a mug shot then perhaps to central booking. Instead, the cop just takes their ID and then hands them a pink summons with a court date to appear at a New York City Criminal Court summons part.
Usually persons given the summons are charged with the Penal Law 221.05. That is the non-criminal possession of marijuana charge. But even though it is just a violation and not a crime, it can have serious vocational, educational, professional and immigration consequences if not handled properly. So legal advice is really important before going to court.
The good news is that even though New York seems somewhat behind the curve when it comes to the country-wide trend towards legalization, New York does have one terrific law on the books which allows for a marijuana arrest to be kept off a persons record.
That law is called the "Marijuana Adjournment In Contemplation of Dismissal ("Marijuana ACD") under CPL 170.56. The Marijuana ACD is available to anyone with no prior marijuana ACD's nor controlled substance convictions.
Any person with no prior criminal convictions nor prior marijuana ACD's is eligible to have the judge impose the marijuana ACD without the consent of the prosecutor. The great thing about the Marijuana ACD is that there is no guilty plea entered and the individual usually only has to waive speedy trial for the duration of the ACD (usually one year"). At the end of the ACD, the charge is dismissed and sealed and the arrest records including the mugshots and the prints are destroyed. The marijuana ACD is available whether the person was arrested for penal law 221.10 or just given a summons under penal law 221.05
So, although New York is lagging behind the rest of the nation with the reform of its drug laws, there are several means of effectively dealing with marijuana charges here in New York to avoid a marijuana conviction. Ask your lawyer or call me at 212-786-2999 to know what you can do.
Is the tide shifting towards legalization of marijuana here in New York City?
The good news is that nationwide, public sentiment towards legalization of marijuana has grown exponentially in recent years and that sentiment has been reflected in the reform of many of the States' marijuana laws. For example, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, and Washington have changed their marijuana laws so that people caught with small amounts are no longer arrested. In California alone, the reforms have resulted in a decrease of more than 50,000 marijuana arrests per year.
Under ballot initiatives approved this month, Alaska and Washington, D.C., will eliminate all penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. (Possessing up to an ounce was already a citable offense in Oregon, where voters also approved marijuana legalization this month.) In 2016 marijuana legalization is expected to be on the ballot in several more states.
As for New York Marijuana laws, Governor Cuomo has stated his support of legislation that would decriminalize public possession of small amounts of marijuana. In his 2013 state of the union address the governor made a forceful call for immediate reform stating : "It's not fair, it's not right. It must end, and it must end now."
Here in New York City, the NYPD under Bill Bratton announced on October 19, 2014 that they would no longer arrest individuals for possessing less than 25 grams of marijuana. However, as of March 2, 2015 it sounds as though Bratton is making marijuana the scapegoat for the murder rate in NYC. Read this article
For the most part, elected officials and city prosecutors are supportive of the new policy. They believe that the policy shift will free up the police to pursue more serious crimes and reduce the burden on backlogged courts. Here is Prosecutor Cyrus Vance's statement.
For example, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said the change would “enhance fairness without sacrificing public safety,” and called it “simply the right thing to do.” Mr. Vance has been advocating for this change in policy since the Bloomberg administration.
Another DA who supports the change is Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson. In fact, Mr. Thompson even announced prior to the change in NYPD policy that his office would stop prosecuting misdemeanor arrests for low-level marijuana possession.
Unfortunately, even though the official policies of the district attorneys' offices might support marijuana reform, there are still individual prosecutors requesting jail time for first time marijuana defendants. So call your lawyer.
Call me at 212-786-2999 if you are interested in knowing how these new marijuana polices can be used to your advantage in court. Or, you can fill out the form on the left.
A few guidelines to know about pot before you visit New York City