June 16, 2016

Assembly Passes Bill to Seal Records
for Marijuana Misdemeanor Convictions

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee Crystal Peoples-Stokes today announced the passage of legislation that would permit the sealing of certain marijuana convictions in an effort to curb the long lasting effects of criminal records.

Currently, an individual charged with possession of 25 grams of marijuana or less is charged with a violation, similar to a traffic offense with no criminal record. However, reports have been made that many times officers request that a suspect empty his or her pockets or purse, observe marijuana within the contents, and then charge him or her with the misdemeanor offense for possessing marijuana in a public place and open to public view. Distinctively, this misdemeanor offense does create a criminal record. Under the proposal, this marijuana misdemeanor charge would be included among the offenses for which sealing of records is required upon conviction (A.10092, Peoples-Stokes).

"Overcoming the stigma associated with having a criminal record can have debilitating effects on an individual's efforts to secure the most basic necessities, such as housing or a job," said Speaker Heastie. "This legislation will help ensure that we do not impose punishment on people that does not fit the crime."

"A lifelong criminal record is a harsh burden to bear for an offense that is often treated as a violation," said Assemblymember Peoples-Stokes. "Furthermore, this burden is one that disproportionately affects African American and Latino communities. Although studies show that white people use marijuana at similar rates, African Americans account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests and Latinos account for more than one third of such arrests. This places an unfair burden on minority communities."

"This legislation will spare many New Yorkers the disgrace that comes with holding a permanent criminal record for a low-level marijuana crime," said Assemblymember Lentol, chair of the Codes Committee. "It is a huge disservice to New Yorkers to let low level crimes prevent them from realizing their full potential and being productive members of society. Passage of this legislation is among our top priorities for the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus and we're committed to enacting this bill into law."

"The inequality in the application of marijuana misdemeanor charges has failed far too many New Yorkers, and especially our youth," said Assemblymember Perry, chairman of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. "This bill will bring greater fairness to our communities, particularly communities of color, which have suffered long enough from this injustice."

The consequences of carrying a permanent criminal record are one of the most enduring of such an arrest. Records of arrests and convictions are now easily accessible and can in turn create significant impediments for individuals looking for a job, housing, credit, maintaining their professional licenses, and applying for student loans.