Thousands Of New Yorkers Are About To Have Their Pot Convictions Expunged

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called a law that went into effect Wednesday "a new chapter in the criminal justice system."

New York will begin expunging thousands of low-level marijuana convictions on Wednesday after a new law went into effect that reduced penalties for pot possession across the state.

Nearly 25,000 people will see the low-level convictions wiped from their records, including 10,872 in New York City and another 13,357 in the rest of the state, The New York Times reported. The original charges will not appear on most background checks, the outlet reported, although it could take about a year for all of the records to be expunged.

“For too long communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana and have suffered the life-long consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement. “Today is the start of a new chapter in the criminal justice system.” 

He continued: “By providing individuals a path to have their records expunged, including those who have been unjustly impacted based on their race or ethnicity, and reducing the penalty for unlawful possession of marijuana to a fine, we are giving many New Yorkers the opportunity to live better and more productive, successful and healthier lives.”

State lawmakers expanded the decriminalization of marijuana in June after failing to pass a broader bill to legalize the drug. Cuomo signed it into law last month, and the legislation dramatically lightens the penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Anyone found carrying less than one ounce of pot can be fined $50, and those with between one and two ounces can get a maximum penalty of $200. The penalties also used to be classified as a misdemeanor, but are now simply a violation.

More than 360,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in New York from 2008 to 2017, Reuters notes.

“This law is long overdue, and it is a significant step forward in our efforts to end this repressive cycle and ultimately mend our discriminatory criminal justice process once and for all,” Cuomo said Wednesday.

Melissa Moore, New York’s deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Northeast Public Radio on Wednesday that while the changes would give relief to thousands of New Yorkers, they fell short of legislation that would benefit communities of color impacted by longstanding drug policy.

“It should provide a measure of relief for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who were unjustly caught up in the criminal legal system because of biased and targeted enforcement of prohibition,” Moore told the outlet.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and 15 others have decriminalized it.