Add New York City to the list of jurisdictions moving to close the criminal records of individuals who have been arrested or convicted of low-level cannabis crimes.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on August 12 said it will seal the records of about 360 individuals convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses who had no other misdemeanor or felony convictions and who are not subject to ongoing criminal cases. When criminal records (including arrest records) are sealed, no one can access those records without a court order.
The move by the New York City District Attorney follows passage of New York state legislation, which takes effect on August 27 and softens penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana (less than 1 ounce). That legislation also provides for sealing records on low-level marijuana cases, and creates an expungement process for some past offenses. Expungement refers to the process of deleting any records pertaining to arrests or criminal records.
As more states move to legalize cannabis products for medicinal and/or recreational uses, growing numbers of lawmakers in those states have pushed for eliminating the criminal records of those previously convicted of cannabis-related crimes. Oregon got the ball rolling in 2015, following a successful ballot measure there which led to state legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes. Other states that have established procedures either for sealing or expunging criminal record for low-level marijuana offences include California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire and Vermont, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Lawmakers in Washington state this year passed a law that vacates misdemeanor marijuana convictions. When a conviction is vacated, the criminal charges are dismissed outright.
In the past, New York City police have arrested roughly 17,000 individuals for cannabis law violations each year, according to published reports. Under the new state law, possessing less than an ounce of cannabis is no longer grounds for arrest in New York, but rather carries a $50 fine.