Cannabis in New York
Cannabis in New York is illegal for recreational use, but is permitted for medical use, and possession of small amounts is decriminalized.
Offenses related to the possession or sale of marijuana and “concentrated cannabis”, outside those allowed by the state’s medical marijuana statute, are defined in Article 221 of the New York State Penal Law. The former term is defined in the state’s Public Health Law as “all parts of the plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant, its seeds or resin.” Stalks from the mature plant, fiber, oil and cake made from it, sterilized seeds and compounds or preparations from them are not considered marijuana. “Concentrated cannabis”, meant primarily to refer to hashish, refers to the plant’s “separated resin, whether crude or purified” and any substance, whether derived from the plant or not, containing more than 2.5% by weight of delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), delta-8 dibenzopyran, delta-1-THC or delta-1 (6) monoterpene, an isomer of the last compound.
Possession of less than 25 grams (0.88 oz) of marijuana, in any form, is unlawful possession of marijuana, punishable by a fine of no more than $100 if the defendant has no convictions for the offense within the last three years. Those who do can be fined up to $200; on the third conviction within that time period the maximum fine rises to $250 with the possibility of a 15-day jail sentence as well. The offense is considered a violation, the lowest level of offense defined in state law, and thus does not show up on a criminal record.
If the marijuana is burning or in public view, no matter the amount, or is between 25 g and 2 ounces (57 g), it is fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a Class B misdemeanor, carrying a possible three-month sentence. Amounts in the 2–8 ounces (57–227 g) range are fourth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor for which offenders can receive up to six months in jail. Convictions for these offenses will result in a criminal record.
Amounts higher than 8 ounces are felonies, all of which carry a minimum prison term of three years in New York. Third-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a Class E felony with up to four years as a possible punishment, applies to amounts between 8 and 16 ounces (450 g), or one pound. Those convicted of second-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a Class D felony with a maximum sentence of seven years, will have been in possession of up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and can expect to serve up to seven years at most. First-degree criminal possession of marijuana applies to those with more than 10 pounds, a Class C felony for which offenders may spend 15 years in prison.
Offenses related to the sale of marijuana start with fifth-degree criminal sale of marijuana, a class B misdemeanor that covers amounts less than 2 grams (0.071 oz). Fourth-degree criminal sale of marijuana, a class A misdemeanor, covers sales between that amount and 25 grams (0.88 oz). Amounts up to 4 ounces (110 g) are third-degree criminal sale of marijuana, a Class E felony.
Sales in the 4–16-oz. range get the offender a conviction for second-degree criminal sale of marijuana, a Class D felony. That offense also applies to any sale of a lesser amount to a minor. Sales of more than a pound are considered first-degree criminal sale of marijuana, a Class C felony.
In 1914, New York first began to restrict cannabis by requiring a prescription to obtain the drug. In an amendment to the Boylan Bill, they added “Cannabis indica, which is the Indian hemp from which the East Indian drug called hashish is manufactured,” to the city’s list of restricted drugs. The New York Times on the following day commented: Devotees of hashish are now hardly numerous enough here to count, but they are likely to increase as other narcotics become harder to obtain. In their study of the history of marijuana prohibition, Richard J. Bonnie & Charles H. Whitebread note that “only four articles about marijuana appeared in the major New York newspaper during the entire period from 1914 until 1927.” In 1927, New York removed the medical purposes and restricted cannabis completely.
In New York City, there were more than 19,000 kg (41,000 lb) of marijuana growing like weeds throughout the boroughs until 1951, when the “White Wing Squad”, headed by the Sanitation Department General Inspector John E. Gleason, was charged with destroying the many pot farms that had sprouted up across the city. The Brooklyn Public Library reports: this group was held to a high moral standard and was prohibited from “entering saloons, using foul language, and neglecting horses.” The Squad found the most weed in Queens but even in Brooklyn dug up “millions of dollars” worth of the plants, many as “tall as Christmas trees”. Gleason oversaw incineration of the plants in Woodside, Queens.
La Guardia Committee (1939-1944)
In 1939, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia assigned a committee to investigate the issue of cannabis in his city. The committee released its report in 1944, concluding that the “gateway theory” was largely false, and that cannabis was not widely associated with addiction, school children, or juvenile delinquency. The report infuriated Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who branded it unscientific.
Rockefeller Drug Laws (1973)
In 1973, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller signed legislation increasing the penalty for selling two ounces (57 g) or more of heroin, morphine, “raw or prepared opium,” cocaine, or cannabis or possessing four ounces (110 g) or more of the same substances, was a minimum of 15 years to life in prison, and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.
In 1977, New York decriminalized possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, to an infraction with a $100 fine. However, possession in public view remained a misdemeanor, and civil rights advocates stated that this was used as a loophole to unfairly arrest. A New York Times editorial noted in 2012:
Marijuana arrests declined after passage of the 1977 law, but that changed in the 1990s. Between 1997 and 2010, the city arrested 525,000 people for low-level, public-view possession, according to a legislative finding. Lawmakers and civil rights lawyers are rightly outraged that more than 80 percent of those arrested in the city are black and Latino, despite substantial data showing that whites are more likely to use the drug.
New York City
In response to the continued arrests for marijuana possession, in 2014 New York City mayor Bill de Blasio directed the NYPD to cease arrests, and instead issue tickets, for small possession even in cases where the 1977 law might allow an arrest, such as cannabis entering “public view” during a stop-and-frisk. However, the Village Voice noted in 2016 that despite a sudden drop following de Blasio’s direction, arrests have “gone back up just as quickly.”
In 2018 the Manhattan and Brooklyn district attorneys announced that they would continue reducing the set of offenses that they would prosecute.
Medical cannabis (2014)
In July 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation permitted the use of cannabis for medical purposes, following a “lengthy, emotional debate” in the issue in the Senate and 49–10 Senate vote. Cuomo’s signing began an 18-month window for the state Department of Health to enact a medical marijuana program to provide non-smoked method of cannabis consumption to patients. The legislation awarded five contracts to private marijuana growers who would each be allowed to operate four dispensaries.
Legalization Study (2018)
In his 2018 State of the State address Governor Cuomo urged the New York State Legislature to fund a study on the effects of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The study would be conducted by the Department of Health and would examine a wide variety of issues, including the legal, economic, and social ramifications recreational marijuana could have on New York. Cuomo’s evolving opinion is likely due to Americans growing acceptance of marijuana, along with the negative impact the 2017 tax law is anticipated to have on New York.
The Department of Health completed its study and has recommended the legalization of marijuana in New York, citing economic, public health, and public safety benefits. Cuomo stated that New York should “legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all,” and that his marijuana legalization proposal would be including the state’s 2019 budget plan.
- “New York State Penal Law”. Article 221, No. 221 of 2016. Retrieved November 13, 2016.
- “New York State Public Health Law”. Article 3302, of 2016. Retrieved November 13, 2016.
- “New York State Penal Law”. Article 70.15, of 2016. Retrieved November 13, 2016.
- “New York State Penal Law”. Article 70, of 2016. Retrieved November 13, 2016.
- Whitebread II, Charles H.; Bonnie, Richard J. (1970). “The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge: An Inquiry into the Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition” (PDF). Virginia Law Review. 56: 971.
- Van Luling, Todd (2014-04-17). “8 Things Even New Yorkers Don’t Know About New York City”. The Huffington Post.
- “Hemp Around Their Necks by Harry Anslinger”. www.druglibrary.net.
- “Examining Marijuana Arrests”. New York Times. April 1, 2012. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
- Dizard, Wilson (2014-11-10). “NYC decides pot fines are just the ticket | Al Jazeera America”. America.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
- Abedian, Anita (2016-06-01). “NYC Marijuana Possession Arrests Are on the Rise in 2016”. Village Voice. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
- Jon Campbell, Gannett Albany Bureau (2014-07-07). “Cuomo signs New York’s medical marijuana bill”. Usatoday.com. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
- “New York’s Health Department Plans to Recommend Legalizing Marijuana”. New York Times.
- Alexandra Hutzler On 1/1/19 at 8:10 AM (2019-01-01). “Experts predict 2019 will be a “real game-changer” for marijuana legalization. Here’s where it could be legal next”. Newsweek. Retrieved 2019-01-03.