Last week, lawmakers approved a measure which reduces the penalties for small amounts of marijuana and expunges the records of those convicted of low-level offenses.
Here’s a breakdown of the changes:
• Possession of less than two ounces of marijuana will be considered a violation, not a crime. The violation still means an individual is arrested, but it won’t result in a prison term or criminal record.
• The penalty for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana will be lowered from $100 to $50 and won’t increase because of an individual’s criminal history. The penalty for possession of between one and two ounces will be $200, regardless of criminal history.
• Most past convictions for marijuana possession of 25 grams (about an ounce) or less will automatically be expunged.
• Marijuana will be added to the definition of smoking in the public health law, so smoking marijuana will be prohibited anywhere smoking tobacco is prohibited.
Rashawn Pennick is a father of five who has been struggling to find a job since his arrest in 2017 for possessing less than a gram of marijuana.
“It makes you want to fib on the application and say you weren't because you know you aren't going to get the job,” he said.
The 32-year-old from Buffalo is one of an estimated 100,000 New Yorkers eligible for expungement. According to Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the Office of Court Administration and the Department of Criminal Justice Services will be required to comb through criminal records and notify anyone who qualifies.
She said the process shouldn't cost those impacted a dime. “They'll have to communicate with you to work through the process but that doesn't mean you have to hire an attorney to do it.”
Peoples-Stokes has long advocated for legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana. “I think it's a sure thing it will happen. I'm not going to say when because it already should've happened. but, I think it's a sure thing.”
Pennick would like to see it legalized. But, he's also happy to see that part of his past will no longer impact his future.
“I have five kids. I want to have a good job to support my children,” he said.