While federal law considers marijuana use and possession illegal, many states are reconsidering their marijuana laws. New York has decriminalized marijuana possession under certain circumstances. If you are carrying a small amount (less than 25 grams) of marijuana in New York, it is unlikely that you will face criminal charges.  Instead, you will be fined. The first offense results in a $100 penalty, but is doubled for second offenses. If you are found possessing marijuana more than twice, you may face up to 15 days in jail. 

What If I Carry More Than That?

New York determines intent by the amount of marijuana you carry. Anything over 25 g is automatically at least a misdemeanor and can carry a jail sentence. This is also true for smoking marijuana in public (any amount). The basic divisions of punishment by weight are as follows:

  • 25 grams to 2 ounces: misdemeanor involving up to three months in prison and a $500 fine,
  • 2 - 8 ounces: misdemeanor involving up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine,
  • 8 ounces - 1 pound: felony involving up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine,
  • 1 - 10 pounds: felony involving up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine, and
  • Over 10 pounds: felony involving up to 15 in prison and a $5,000 fine.

What about Giving or Selling Marijuana to My Friends?

Unlike most states, New York classifies the gifting of marijuana as a separate crime from possession. If you give someone up to two grams of marijuana as a gift, you can be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. The penalties increase if you are distributing larger amounts. They include the sale or distribution of:

  • Between 25 grams - 4 ounces: up to four years in prison, $5,000 fine,
  • Between 4 ounces - 1 pound: up to seven years in prison, $5.000 fine, and
  • More than 1 pound: up to 15 years in prison, $5,000 fine.

In addition, the sale or delivery of ANY amount of marijuana to a minor brings up to a seven-year sentence and a $5,000 fine. Trafficking is a separate offense, resulting in 15-25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Can I Carry a Bong or Water pipe in New York?

While New York does have laws against drug paraphernalia, defining it as any product "primarily intended or designed to aid in the manufacturing, concealing or ingesting of a controlled substance," they only generally apply to "dirty" paraphernalia, meaning equipment that actually has been used and has drug residue in it.

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. So a never-used water pipe, or one used to smoke tobacco, would not be illegal in New York. But possession of a dirty water pipe or an object that has only drug-related uses (like roach clips or a grow kit) is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. If you are a repeat offender or were manufacturing drugs, you may face felony charges and a longer sentence.

What about Medical Marijuana?

New York citizens with serious illnesses can purchase marijuana from state-approved dispensaries. However, New York’s medical marijuana laws are some of the strictest in the nation. The state places a number of restrictions on its medical marijuana program:

  • Patients must have approval from a licensed physician or nurse practitioner.
  • Patients must be registered with New York’s medical marijuana program.
  • Only patients with specific illnesses may qualify for the program.
  • Patients cannot purchase more than a 30-day supply.
  • Marijuana will be subject to a 7% sales tax.
  • The program will automatically expire in seven years unless state legislature renews it. However, the Governor retains the right to end the program early.
  • Patients cannot smoke the marijuana they purchase. (Instead, patients purchase cannabis in liquid, oil, or capsule form.)

Medical marijuana must be purchased from a state-authorized dispensing organization. If you are unable to purchase your own marijuana, you can legally authorize up to two caregivers who can purchase on your behalf. 

Which Medical Conditions Qualify for New York’s Medical Marijuana Program?

The following illnesses are approved conditions:

  • 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.

Chronic pain was recently added as a permitted medical condition. However, “chronic pain” is very narrowly defined. Your doctor can help you determine if you are eligible for medical marijuana for chronic pain. 

The state is also considering the efficacy of treating other conditions (such as PTSD and muscular dystrophy) with marijuana. However, to date, New York has not agreed to add any other conditions to their list.

Do I Need a New York Criminal Law Attorney?

If you are facing drug charges, it is in your best interest to contact a criminal lawyer. New York’s criminal penalties for marijuana possession vary dramatically, depending on the facts of your case. It's also important to remember that federal law still strictly prohibits marijuana use and possession. A New York lawyer can help you understand your rights and present the strongest possible defenses.