Marijuana / Marihuana Possession in New York: From Unlawful to Criminal Possession & Your Criminal Defense

While there are bright and articulate people on all sides of the argument to legalize marijuana in New York State, as it stands now the law is clear. Possession of marijuana (“marihuana” in the New York Penal Law) is illegal. In New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens) as well as in Westchester County, possession of merely a joint can lead to an arrest or issuance of a Desk Appearance Ticket for Unlawful Possession of Marijuana (New York Penal Law 221.05), Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fifth Degree (New York Penal Law 221.10) or Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fourth Degree (New York Penal Law 221.15).

The issue for most people, however, is not whether possession is illegal or whether they will be issued a New York Desk Appearance Ticket or be put through the system. Instead, a question often asked to New York criminal defense attorneys is what is the potential punishment and, secondarily, how will this impact the accused’s future. This first entry on this topic will address the violation and the misdemeanor crimes involving marijuana possession as well as the potential punishment associated with those offenses. A later entry will address the felony crimes involving the possession of marijuana.

Unlawful Possession of Marijuana (NY PL 221.05)

Unlawful Possession of Marijuana is perpetrated when one knowingly and unlawfully possesses marijuana. Often times the scenario where this offense is charged is where the marijuana is not burning or open to public view, but it is recovered from a pocket or similar location. A “violation,” a conviction of this offense will not result in a criminal record. For a first time offender, a fine of no more than $100 will be levied as well as possible court costs.

Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the 5th Degree (NY PL 221.10)

One can be convicted of Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the 5th Degree when one possesses the marihuana in a public place and it is either burning or, alternatively, open to the view of the public. Moreover, even if the marijuana is not possessed as described, a conviction will be sustained if the aggregate weight is more than twenty-five grams but no more than two ounces.

A “B” misdemeanor, this crime is punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the 4th Degree (NY PL 221.15)

A person will be found guilty of Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the 4th Degree if the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you unlawfully and knowingly possessed marijuana with an aggregate weight exceeding two to eight ounces.

An “A” misdemeanor, this crime is punishable by up to one year in jail (Rikers Island or the Westchester County Jail).

It is important to note that mere possession and even an admission by the accused does not mean the accused should plead guilty or accept a criminal conviction. Often times there are multiple ways to fight these cases. For example, whether you were issued a Desk Appearance Ticket for marijuana possession or arrested for possessing the contraband, a Marijuana Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) may be a potential way to resolve your case. Although it should be further discussed with your New York criminal defense lawyer, the case can be dismissed and sealed in year leaving you without a criminal record. Alternatively, if you are charged with Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fourth or Fifth Degrees and you are not eligible for a Marijuana ACD, a plea to the violation and a fine may be a way to avoid a criminal conviction.

Beyond the potential crimes and punishments, another important issue that should be addressed in these types of cases is how it came to be that you were stopped and searched by the police. Where did they recover the marijuana? Was it on your person? How did they get into your pockets? What was there probable cause? At bottom, was the search legal? It may be that conduct by the police was absolutely legitimate, but these issues are certainly areas that should be explored.

The above primer for marijuana misdemeanor crimes is just that…a primer. There are many substantive issues and concerns that should be addressed that are beyond the criminal case. Will this impact your certification or licensing? Will you have a record forever if convicted of these crimes? What about if you are only convicted of the violation? The list goes on.

For further information about New York Desk Appearance Tickets, please follow the highlighted link. For information on marijuana crimes, recent legal decisions, newsworthy cases and other offenses, please read the New York Criminal Lawyer Blog at NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com.

The New York criminal defense attorneys at Crotty Saland PC represent clients in all criminal matters throughout the New York City region. Prior to starting the firm, the founding partners served as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

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