As recreational marijuana seems to be more and more likely to be passed this year, there are a few roadblocks that must be overcome first. The biggest being, what to do about the people who have past convictions for possession.
“It’s not easy to say let’s just expunge the records, let’s decriminalize,” Assemblywoman Pat Fahy (D-Albany) said.
While penalties for marijuana have been greatly reduced in recent years, it is still handled differently in areas around the state. For example, if an officer finds less than an ounce in your possession, you most likely will just receive a violation ticket. However, while New York city recently implemented a rule that they would not arrest people for smoking in public, that is not followed everywhere in New York.
“We don’t want people who have spent years in jail to have to feel like they have to navigate the system to try and expunge their records.
Assemblywoman Pat Fahy is not alone in this feeling. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has been vocal in the past saying legalizing recreational marijuana and expunging the records of past offenses go hand in hand.
“Why should people still be having trouble getting jobs and have a record for something that now could be legal,” Heastie said.
But how would this work?
“I don’t think they can unilaterally say hey anyone with this type of conviction we’re just going to wipe these records out. So they’re going to have to apply for these records to be sealed and that would involve hiring an attorney and going through the process,” Derrick Hogan, Managing Partner, and Lawyer at Tully Rinckey PLLC, said.
Using Colorado as an example, the state voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, but residents are still working to vacate or seal past marijuana possession convictions.
It’s still unclear if New York can take a single action to clear thousands of cases, or if the state would help people clear their records individually. But it seems to be the common opinion of many lawyers that this would still be a process.
“You would call up a lawyer and say, hey I was convicted in 2005 of an unlawful possession on marijuana or even a misdemeanor possession of marijuana, I would like to get this sealed or expunged and at that point, you can go through with an attorney.”