New York’s first steps toward marijuana decriminalization start this week

Aug 27, 2019

Credit Rusty Blazenhoff / flickr

New York state lawmakers passed sweeping changes to the criminal justice system this year, including how prosecutors have to handle low-level drug offenses. 

So if you were convicted in New York state for possessing 2 ounces of marijuana or less, odds are that won’t be on your criminal record much longer. One of the new laws calls for record expungements for these types of offenses. 

But longtime Orleans County District Attorney Joe Cardone said expunging the records isn’t necessary because many low-level drug offenders already have an option available to them.

“Adjournment in contemplation of dismissal results in the sealing of that unlawful possession of marijuana cases, so it's already there in place,” said Cardone.

He explained how the process works: “We would ask them as part of the resolution of their case that they get an evaluation to make sure that they don’t have a drug problem, and if they work with us, we work with them.”

From Cardone’s perspective, it achieves the same result as expunging records while ensuring that people who need drug treatment get it. 

He said other moves toward legalization are a cash grab.

“In my judgment, why we would legalize it is just, unfortunately, our government putting monetary profits over morality,” said Cardone.

The New York Civil Liberties Union provided a statement on the issue:

“While a step in the right direction, this decriminalization bill is just the beginning of what marijuana reform should look like. The (expungement) of past marijuana related records is essential in reform, but New York needs a comprehensive long-term solution that will end the needless funneling of people into the criminal legal system by putting a complete end to the criminalization of marijuana offenses that remain in place.”