Unlawful Possession of Marihuana in NYS: An Update

In New York, as mentioned in our last entry, possession of small amounts of marihuana can be more unlawful or less unlawful depending on your location and the amount of discretion you exercise in possessing it. In private (in your home, for instance), or even in public if it’s discretely hidden about your person, possession of a small amount of marihuana is only a violation. Openly displaying the same amount on a street corner, however, is a misdemeanor – a crime.

There has been a good deal of dissatisfaction with this discrepancy lately, largely due to a controversial policy of the New York City Police Department. Vast numbers of young African-American and Latino men have been frisked and forced to turn out their pockets on the thinnest of pretexts; they’ve then been arrested for misdemeanor possession when previously hidden marihuana came to light.

So, on June 4th, Governor Cuomo announced ‘Legislation to Bring Consistency and Fairness to the State’s Penal Law and Save Thousands of New Yorkers from Unnecessary Misdemeanor Charges’. This legislation would decriminalize the mere possession of small amounts of marihuana in situations where it’s ‘open to public view’ – in essence, putting possession in public on a par with private possession. It would still be unlawful, but it wouldn’t be criminal.

A proposed bill by State Senator Mark Grisanti would go even further. Senator Grisanti’s bill would decriminalize even the smoking of marihuana in public. Under the legislation supported by the Governor, smoking marihuana in public would remain a crime.

We’re providing links to a New York Times article and an Albany Times Union article for more information and background on this issue.