Marijuana legalization could be headed to New York

Marijuana legalization could be on its way to New York, but until then individuals should be aware of the current penalties for drug possession.

The legalization of recreational marijuana use could be headed to New York state, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal Metropolis blog. State Sen. Liz Krueger plans to introduce a new bill in January that would permit adults to possess as much as two ounces of the drug, eliminating many of the criminal penalties for marijuana possession in the state.

The bill, named the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, would also allow for retail marijuana dispensaries to open up and establish a state tax on all sales. Individuals would be able to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes, as long as it's for personal use only.

Much progress already made

Unlike Colorado and Washington, the two states that legalized recreational marijuana in the 2012 election, New York does not have a voter-approved referendum system. Thus, if the legislature passes the measure in early 2015, it could go into effect immediately. The bill's supporters face some hurdles, however, as it's unclear whether they have the votes in the legislature, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet indicated if he supports full legalization. Cuomo is up for reelection in November.

Back in June, the legislature passed a medical marijuana bill that would allow 20 dispensaries to open across the state. However, the program likely won't be ready until 2016, and both of the state's U.S. senators have asked the Department of Justice to give the state permission to receive marijuana from out-of-state producers until that time, according to the Staten Island Advance.

This would be a special consideration for the DOJ, as the federal government bans the selling of marijuana across state lines, even if both states have legalized the drug in some form. The reason behind the request is that New York health officials want to begin treating children suffering from epilepsy and other seizure-related conditions as soon as possible.

For now, harsh penalties persist

It appears as though marijuana could soon be legal for hundreds of thousands of New York residents. In the meantime, however, the state maintains tough penalties for individuals convicted of drug crimes - even simple marijuana possession.

According to advocacy organization NORML, the possession of fewer than 25 grams (just under one ounce) is punishable by fines for a first or second offense, while you may receive up to 15 days in jail for a third offense. Carrying larger amounts of marijuana, however, is a misdemeanor and may result in three months to a year incarceration. Using marijuana in public view is also a misdemeanor, and you could face up to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine.

Being in possession of any amount over eight ounces is a felony, punishable by four to seven years in prison, and up to 15 years in prison if you were caught with more than 10 pounds.

In addition to these criminal penalties, drug possession convictions remain on your record for the long term, potentially impacting your ability to get a job, explore educational opportunities and rent an apartment in the future. Considering all this, it's important to work with a skilled criminal defense attorney in Kew Gardens if you've been accused of drug possession.

Keywords: marijuana, drug, crime, arrest