New York Marijuana Laws

Marijuana possession, sale, and cultivation are regulated by both state and federal law. The federal government classifies marijuana, along with heroin and cocaine, as a Schedule I drug with a high potential for abuse and little to no medical benefit. (21 C.F.R. § 1308.11(d)(23).) Possessing any amount of marijuana is a federal crime. In New York state, marijuana (spelled “marihuana” in New York statutes) is also a Schedule I substance (N.Y. Pub. Health § 3306(d)(13) (2019).) Nevertheless, as of 2014, New York state allows for limited medical use, as explained below.

Is Medical Marijuana Legal in New York?

New York is one of more than 30 states with a medical marijuana program. In New York, patients can use marijuana to treat specific conditions with an associated complication if a registered health care provider certifies them for the program. For example, a cancer patient might be able to use marijuana to help with chronic pain and nausea.

Certified patients must register with the Department of Health before they can buy medical marijuana from state-licensed dispensaries. The Commissioner of Health must approve any form of medical marijuana. Examples of approved forms include vape cartridges, lozenges, and topicals. Under current laws and regulations, patients can’t smoke medical marijuana or consume edibles.

(N.Y. Pub. Health §§ 3360 to 3369-E (2019).)

Is It Legal to Use Marijuana for Recreation in New York?

It is illegal to use and possess marijuana in New York, but it isn’t necessarily punished by jail time, as are most crimes. As of 2019, possession of up to two ounces is a civil violation, with fines as low as $50. Possessing larger amounts for personal use (and any amount with the intent to sell) is a crime punishable by jail or prison. (See below for more information on the difference between decriminalization and legalization of marijuana.)

New York punishes people who unlawfully possess marijuana based on how much they possess.

  • Two ounces or less. Possessing two ounces or less of marijuana for personal use is a civil violation (like a speeding ticket) that can only be punished with a fine. Fines range from $50 to $200.
  • Between two to eight ounces. Possessing more than two and up to eight ounces of marijuana is a class A misdemeanor crime. Potential penalties include up to 364 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
  • Between eight to 16 ounces. Possessing more than eight and up to 16 ounces of marijuana is a class E felony crime. Potential penalties include up to four years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
  • Between 16 ounces and ten pounds. Possessing more than 16 ounces to 10 pounds of marijuana is a class D felony crime. Potential penalties include up to seven years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
  • More than ten pounds. Possessing more than ten pounds of marijuana is a class C felony crime. Potential penalties include up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.

(N.Y. Penal Law §§ 70.00, 70.15, 80.00, 80.05, 221 to 221.30 (2019).)

Concentrated Cannabis Laws and Potential Penalties

New York defines marijuana as the original plant buds and treats “concentrated cannabis” (basically any form of THC, like hash, that is not the original plant buds) as a controlled substance distinct from marijuana. (N.Y. Pub. Health § 3302 (2019).) People who are caught with even small amounts of concentrated cannabis can be prosecuted for possessing a controlled substance, the same charge they would face if caught with heroin or cocaine. (N.Y. Penal Law § 220 (2019).) For more information, see Possession of a Controlled Substance in New York.

Marijuana Sales Laws and Potential Penalties

Selling marijuana is addressed separately from possession and personal use. It is a crime to sell any amount of marijuana in New York. Penalties vary depending on the amount of marijuana sold and the age of the buyer.

  • Two grams or less, or one marijuana cigarette. Giving away or trading two grams or less of marijuana or one marijuana cigarette is a class B misdemeanor. Potential penalties include up to three months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.
  • 25 grams or less. Selling 25 grams or less of marijuana (selling is considered more serious than gifting or trading) is a class A misdemeanor. Potential penalties include up to 364 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
  • More than 25 grams to four ounces. Selling more than 25 grams to four ounces of marijuana is a class E felony. Potential penalties include up to four years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
  • More than four ounces to one pound. Selling more than four ounces to one pound of marijuana is a class D felony. Potential penalties include up to seven years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
  • More than one pound. Selling more than one pound of marijuana is a class C felony. Potential penalties include up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.
  • Selling to a minor. Selling any marijuana to a person under 18 years old is also a class D felony.

(N.Y. Penal Law §§ 70.00, 70.15, 80.00, 80.05, 221.35 to 221.55 (2019).)

Marijuana Cultivation Laws and Penalties

Cultivating (growing) marijuana is a class A misdemeanor. (N.Y. Pub. Health § 3382 (2019).) People who cultivate marijuana can also be charged with possessing the marijuana they grown. (Matter of Parmeter v. Feinberg, 105 A.D.2d 886 (N.Y. App. Div. 1984).)

For example, say Nelson is busted for growing eight pounds of marijuana. He can be charged with a class A misdemeanor for cultivating marijuana (maximum penalty 364 days' jail time and/or a $1,000 fine) and a class D felony for possessing eight pounds of marijuana (maximum penalty seven years' prison time and/or a $5,000 fine).

Drug Paraphernalia

Possessing drug paraphernalia, including scales used to weigh marijuana, is a class A misdemeanor. Subsequent violations are class D felonies. (N.Y. Pub. Health §§ 220.5 and 220.55 (2019).)

Sealing Past Convictions

In 2019, New York established procedures for the expungement of low-level cannabis convictions. People convicted of possessing up to two ounces of marijuana must pay a fine, but the record of their violation is automatically expunged at the time of conviction. Expunged records are confidential—only law enforcement agencies can review expunged records when someone applies to be an officer or for a pistol license. People who are unsatisfied with an expungement can request to have their expunged marijuana conviction destroyed.

Criminal marijuana convictions prior to 2019 that would be violations under the “decriminalization rules” are also automatically expunged. See New York Courts’ self-help guide to Marijuana and Expungement for details.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you have been charged with a marijuana-related offense, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Marijuana laws change frequently and might be enforced differently depending on where you are cited or arrested. A lawyer can explain relevant marijuana laws to you, review the facts of your case, and advise you about how a case like yours might be handled by local prosecutors and judges.

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