Although federal law still considers marijuana use and possession illegal, many states in the United States have begun decriminalizing and even legalizing the use of medicinal or recreational marijuana. In fact, recent legislation in New York has caused marijuana possession to be decriminalized, under certain circumstances.

Beginning on September 1, 2018, the New York Police Department began issuing tickets for people who were caught using or possessing marijuana in public, instead of immediately arresting them. Specifically, New York’s Penal Code section 220 states that if you are caught carrying a small amount of marijuana (less than 25 grams), then you will be charged a civil violation that results in fines, but no jail time.

Thus, if you are caught possessing or using marijuana, then you will be penalized with a fine of $100. A second offense doubles the fine to $200, while the third (up to 15 days in prison and a fine of $250) or greater offense will result in jail time and an increased fine.

It is important to note that you may still be arrested if you have an open arrest warrant, are on parole or probation, or if you do not have identification. Additionally, if the officer considers you a threat to the public, such as if you are smoking marijuana while driving, then you may also be arrested on the spot, instead of being simply fined.  

What if I am Caught Possessing More than 25 Grams?

As noted above, the penalties that you face for use or possession in New York is determined by the amount of marijuana you possess. In contrast to the civil fines levied against you for possession of marijuana less than 25 grams, possessing more than 25 grams of marijuana carries harsher penalties. In New York possessing any more than 25 grams of marijuana will result in a misdemeanor charge, which can carry a jail sentence. The same is true for smoking marijuana in public.

The range of penalties that may be levied against you for possessing marijuana under the New York Penal Code are as follows:

  • Possession of Greater Than 25 Grams to 2 Ounces: Misdemeanor charge that carries penalties of up to three months in prison and a $500 fine;
  • Possession of Greater Than 2 Ounces to 8 Ounces: Misdemeanor charge that carries penalties of up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine;
  • Possession of Greater Than 8 Ounces to 1 Pound: Felony charge that carries penalties of up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine;
  • Possession of Greater Than 1 Pound to 10 Pound: Felony charge that carries penalties of up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine; and
  • Possession of More Than 10 Pounds: Felony charge that carries penalties of up to 15 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

What are the Penalties for Distributing or Selling Marijuana?

If you are caught in New York giving someone a “marijuana cigarette” or less than 2 grams of marijuana, then you will only be charged with a misdemeanor and face penalties of up to three months in prison and a $500 fine. However, the penalties drastically increase if you are distributing large amounts of marijuana for a profit.

The penalties for sale and distribution of marijuana are as follows:

  • Distribution of Less Than 25 Grams::Misdemeanor charge carrying penalties of 1 year in prison and a $1,000 fine;
  • Distribution Between 25 Grams to 4 Ounces: Felony charge carrying penalties of up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine;
  • Distribution Between 4 Ounces to 1 Pound: Felony charge carrying penalties of up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine; and
  • Distribution of More Than 1 Pound: Felony charge carrying penalties of up to 15 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

In addition, the sale or delivery of ANY amount of marijuana to a minor heightens the penalty, causing the charges brought against you to include up to a seven year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.Drug trafficking, of any amount, is a separate offense that may result in penalties of up to 15 to 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

May I Possess a Bong or Water Pipe?

New York does have laws regarding drug paraphernalia, which is defined as any product that is “primarily intended or designed to aid in the manufacturing, concealing or ingesting of a controlled substance.” However, this law generally only applies to “dirty” (i.e. used or having drug residue) paraphernalia.

Since many things, such as weight scales or tobacco pipes, can have both legal and illicit uses, it is often difficult to prosecute cases of paraphernalia possession, unless there is clear evidence of drug use. Thus, possessing a never-used water pipe, or a pipe used to smoke tobacco, would not be illegal in New York.

However, possession of a dirty water pipe or an object that has only drug-related uses, such as roach clips or a grow kit, is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Additionally, if you are a repeat offender or were manufacturing drugs, you may face felony charges and a longer sentence.

Is Medical Marijuana Legal in New York?

New York does allow for the limited use of medical marijuana within the state, with a maximum of 20 dispensaries allowed to operate. Typically these facilities are only allowed to prescribe non-smokable marijuana to people with cancer, glaucoma, or other qualifying diseases.

The following is a list of diseases approved for medicinal marijuana use:

  • Cancer;
  • ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease);
  • Parkinson’s Disease;
  • Multiple Sclerosis;
  • Spinal Cord Damage;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease;
  • Neuropathies;
  • Huntington’s Disease; and
  • Chronic Pain (which is narrowly defined).

Thus, New York citizens with serious illnesses are legally allowed to purchase marijuana from state-approved dispensaries. However, New York’s medical marijuana laws remain some of the strictest in the nation.

The state places a number of restrictions on its medical marijuana program, including:

  • Patients must have approval to use medicinal marijuana for treatment from a licensed physician or nurse practitioner;
  • Patients must be specifically registered with New York’s medical marijuana program;
  • Only patients who have certain specific illnesses may qualify for the program;
  • Patients cannot purchase more than a 30-day supply of medicinal marijuana;
  • Marijuana is subjected  to a 7% sales tax;
  • The program will automatically expire in seven years unless state legislature renews it, with the Governor retaining the right to end the program early; and
  • Patients cannot smoke the marijuana they purchase. Instead, as noted above, patients may only purchase and use cannabis in liquid, oil, or capsule form.

If you are unable to purchase your own marijuana, you can legally authorize up to two caregivers who can purchase the medicinal marijuana on your behalf.

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

As can be seen, the range of penalties for the use, possession, and distribution of marijuana vary greatly in New York. Thus, if you are currently facing drug charger, it may be in your best interests to consult with a well qualified and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.

An experienced new york defense attorney will help you understand your charges and rights, as well as put together a strong defense for your case. Additionally, they will represent you in front of a criminal court, if necessary.