By Josefa Velasquez (THE CITY)
New York state lawmakers last week voted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and expunge thousands of low-level charges — but exactly how that process will work is hazy.
The bill would eliminate criminal charges for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana, reducing offenses to non-criminal violations. The measure also would slash fines and clear records on low-level pot convictions.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he supports the proposal. After the Legislature sends the bill to the governor, he has 10 days to sign or veto it.
‘A New World for New York’
The weed rollback will be new territory for the state’s court system, which would be charged with expunging a huge amount of records and alerting law enforcement officials of the vacated convictions.
A full estimate of how many records would have to be expunged hasn’t been determined, according to the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services.
New York’s court system doesn’t currently have a method for expunging criminal records — and the undertaking will require a “very involved legal process,” Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson with the Office of Court Administration told THE CITY.
“We are talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of criminal records to be removed from our database,” Chaflen said.
Expunging records would be a “new world for New York,” said Phil Nash, an attorney at Long Island-based Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry who serves on the New York State Bar Association’s Sealing Committee, which deals with closed records and expungements.
The Legislature’s proposal “directs that a lot of things to be done and it’s going to take time to go through,” Nash said.
Illinois, which became the 11th state to legalize marijuana earlier this week, plans to expunge the criminal records of roughly 800,000 people who were charged for purchasing or possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less.