The use and possession of marijuana is generally prohibited under U.S. federal law. However, many states have started to decriminalize and even legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes. 

Until more recently, New York marijuana laws had been fairly strict regarding the use and possession of marijuana. Then, in 2014, the Compassionate Care Act was passed. This Act creates special legal protections for persons who suffer from certain medical conditions and allows such persons to use and possess marijuana for medicinal purposes.

It should be noted that persons who meet the criteria of the Compassionate Care Act must also receive written certification from their physician and register for an identification card before they can obtain and use any medical marijuana products in state.

Although the use and possession of marijuana for any purpose is still considered illegal under New York marijuana laws (with the exception of those who qualify under the Act), as of 2019, the penalties for possession have been reduced. Barring other factors, a person who is caught in possession of two ounces or less of marijuana will no longer be subject to arrest. Instead, they will be issued a citation and court summons.

In addition, it no longer matters whether a person was caught consuming marijuana in public or behind closed doors. Again, as of 2019, the police will focus on the amount of marijuana a person has in their possession when deciding whether or not to impose criminal charges. Thus, a person possessing any amount over two ounces will likely be subject to arrest. 

Lastly, the legal penalties for marijuana use and possession in New York can now range from fines to incarceration depending on the circumstances. For instance, if the person cannot be properly identified and has an outstanding warrant against them for either a felony or misdemeanor offense, they will be arrested and can face serious consequences.

How Much Marijuana is a Felony in New York?

As mentioned, law enforcement in New York is primarily concerned with the amount or weight of marijuana that a defendant has in their possession. As such, the amount required for possession of marijuana to become a felony usually ranges between eight to sixteen ounces for a first-time offender. This could result in four years of imprisonment and $5,000 in fines. 

The greater the amount that the person is in possession of, the more severe the penalties issued will be if convicted. For instance, in comparison to the example just discussed, a person in possession of ten pounds of marijuana will receive at least fifteen years of imprisonment and $5,000 or more in fines. 

In addition, the amount of marijuana and resulting penalty will change depending on the type of felony offense committed. A person who distributes (as opposed to possesses) twenty-five grams to four ounces will be charged with a felony offense that has consequences of up to four years of imprisonment and $5,000 in fines. Notice how much less marijuana is required for the offense to become a felony. Distribution is much more serious than possession. 

What are the Penalties for Distributing or Selling Marijuana?

The legal consequences for criminal charges that involve the intent to distribute or sell drugs are much more severe than those for possession. Charges for sale or distribution mean that the defendant had the intent to sell or actually sold drugs to other individuals. 

It also usually means that the defendant had a larger quantity of drugs than one would expect to find on someone only in possession of drugs for personal use. 

For instance, if the defendant is caught giving someone a marijuana cigarette (which usually contains less than two ounces of marijuana), then they will typically only be charged with a misdemeanor and thus can face up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. 

However, the consequences will increase dramatically if larger amounts of marijuana are being distributed and if distribution is intended for profit. Below are some general guidelines for the penalties one can receive for distributing or selling marijuana:

  • Distribution of less than 25 grams: Misdemeanor charge resulting in penalties of up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine;
  • Distribution between 25 grams to 4 ounces: Felony charge resulting in penalties of up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine;
  • Distribution between 4 ounces to 1 pound: Felony charge resulting in penalties of up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine; 
  • Distribution of more than 1 pound: Felony charge resulting in penalties of up to fifteen years in prison and a $15,000 fine; and
  • Distribution of any amount of marijuana to a minor: Felony charge resulting in penalties of up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Finally, charges involving drug trafficking of any amount will be charged as a separate offense and can result in penalties of up to fifteen to twenty-five years of imprisonment and $100,000 in fines.

Is it Legal to Possess a Bong or Water Pipe?

As mentioned, it is illegal to smoke weed at home in New York. The reason for this is because it is still considered illegal to possess marijuana under current New York State marijuana laws. Although the law enacted in 2019 may decriminalize some marijuana use, it does not legalize marijuana possession and the new regulation comes with many restrictions. 

For instance, while the new punishment for possession of two ounces is a citation rather than an arrest, anything over that amount will result in an arrest and can lead to serious consequences. 

Also, a person who is in possession of drug paraphernalia, such as bongs or water pipes, could be charged with a drug offense. Whether the offense will be charged as a misdemeanor or felony will depend on the type of paraphernalia found, how the paraphernalia is used, and whether the paraphernalia was used.

For example, it is often extremely difficult to prosecute a case involving an unused water pipe or bong. Thus, New York laws regarding drug paraphernalia typically only apply to those items that are used or have drug residue on them.

Is Medical Marijuana Legal in New York?

As discussed above, New York does allow use and possession of medical marijuana under the Compassionate Care Act. However, patients must qualify for a prescription, obtain an identification card to purchase marijuana products, and receive a written certification from their physician. 

In order to qualify, the patient must first be suffering from a severe medical condition, such as cancer, epilepsy, chronic pain, or inflammatory bowel disease. Additionally, their condition must include at least one of the following symptoms: severe nausea, cachexia (i.e., wasting syndrome), chronic pain, seizures, and several others that can be found on the website for New York’s medical marijuana program. 

Also, patients are not allowed to smoke marijuana and cannot purchase edibles. Instead, they will be restricted to the following medical marijuana products: capsules, oil, oral powder or spray, tablets, and vape pens. Patients are not permitted to buy more than a 30-day supply of any of these products.

One final important thing to note about this program is that it will automatically expire in seven years unless the state legislature decides to renew it, and so long as the Governor does not terminate the program earlier than its anticipated expiration date.

Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with New York Marijuana Laws?

While New York’s medical marijuana program is a huge step for a state that has been traditionally tough on marijuana related crimes, there is still a long way to go before marijuana laws in New York relax enough to allow for legalization and recreational purposes. Thus, it is important to be vigilant about use and possession in New York, even if a person holds a medical identification card.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the marijuana laws in New York state, you should consider contacting a criminal lawyer who practices in New York for further information. A New York criminal lawyer will be able to answer any of your questions, will be familiar with the local marijuana laws, and can interpret and apply them to your situation. 

Additionally, if you are facing criminal drug charges or fines for marijuana in New York, your lawyer can review the charges against you, determine if there are any relevant defenses you can raise, and can represent you in court if it becomes necessary.