PNS Daily Newscast - September 21, 2018 

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Last-Minute Push to Seal Marijuana Convictions

Of the 20,000 New Yorkers arrested for marijuana possession in 2015, 83 percent were black or Latino. (Elvert Barnes/Flickr)
Of the 20,000 New Yorkers arrested for marijuana possession in 2015, 83 percent were black or Latino. (Elvert Barnes/Flickr)
June 17, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Near the close of the legislative session, a bill to seal court records on thousands of marijuana-possession arrests cleared the state Assembly.

Possession of marijuana for personal use was decriminalized in New York in 1977. In the past 20 years, however, more than 700,000 New Yorkers have been arrested for simple possession. According to Kassandra Frederique, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, this bill would seal records of those convicted of what is termed marijuana possession "in public view."

"These convictions can lead to devastating collateral consequences," she said, "including losing financial aid, not being able to be in public housing, licensing entities, potential employers."

The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 99-42, but failed to come to a vote in the state Senate before the end of the session on Thursday.

Besides creating a process for those with prior convictions to seal their records, Frederique said, the bill also would prohibit the Department of Criminal Justice Services from using sealed records in any report, "and it would standardize the time for sealing a marijuana possession violation from three years to automatic upon conviction -- so, immediately."

Marijuana violations currently are the only violations in the New York state penal code that take three years to seal.

Although statistically, whites are more likely to use marijuana than people of color, the vast majority of those arrested for possession are young black and Latino men. While Frederique said she doesn't believe passing the bill would eliminate the harms of racially biased enforcement, she said it would send a clear message.

"We've been doing this wrong for decades," she said, "and, if we're going to start having conversations about reform, that also includes retroactively dealing with the mistakes of the past."

She said the Drug Policy Alliance will be back to push for passage of the bill the next time the Legislature convenes.

The legislation, Assembly Bill A10092, is online at

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY