The legalization of marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use has been on the rise nationwide for several years. Although many states have acknowledged the value in medicinal marijuana, only two have taken steps to allow the legal use of marijuana recreationally. In New York State there have been attempts to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana as is done with alcohol through legislation such as the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). Additional proposed legislation has aimed at decriminalizing or reducing the penalties associated with the possession of smaller amounts of marijuana. The laws aimed at possession have focused on the disparate way in which current laws are applied, resulting in more racial minorities arrested for possession of relatively small amounts of marijuana.
Under current New York state law, possession of marijuana carries relatively low penalties compared to federal penalties. In New York, a first offense conviction for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana in a private place results in a fine of no more than $100, a second offense a fine of no more than $200, and a third offense can result in a fine of $250 and may include 15 days imprisonment. Conversely, the federal penalties for possessing marijuana could result in up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000. For a third conviction of possession, federal law requires a minimum of 90 days in jail and a maximum of three years, with a minimum fine of $5,000.
Where you are found in possession of marijuana in New York is also as important as the amount of marijuana you may be carrying. Penalties for possession in a public place are more serious than those outlined above. The definition of a public place includes common places that a person may expect to be considered public, such as a playground or even a lobby of an apartment building. However, New York Courts have held that a person inside a car on a public highway is in a public place, as long as the marijuana in their possession can be viewed by members of the public. The prosecution does not have to prove that any member of the public actually saw the marijuana in order to get a conviction; they just have to prove that a member of the public could have viewed it.
The element of possession in a public place for a marijuana possession charge can enhance penalties for the same amount of marijuana discussed above (two ounces) to up to three months in prison. In some situations, for example if stopped by the police and asked to empty your pockets, a possession that should result in a ticket or small fine could be elevated to prison time. It is therefore important to get an attorney who can ensure the charges against you are not unfairly enhanced.
Contact a Syracuse Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are a facing New York State or federal marijuana or other drug possession or trafficking charges, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you. Contact experienced Syracuse criminal defense attorney George F. Hildebrandt for a consultation.