Sealing these records would ensure that a person’s marijuana-related conviction would not come up in most background checks, state officials said.
A method for expunging the records, which has never been done in New York, is still being developed, the officials said. The process could take up to a year, a spokesman for the State Office of Court Administration, Lucian Chalfen, said.
The Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group, said the number of people who would have their records cleared could be many times higher than the number cited by the state; the alliance cited figures showing that between 1990 and 2018, 867,701 arrests were made in New York State for low-level marijuana offenses.
Under the new law, the classification of the penalty for possessing between one and two ounces of marijuana has been lowered to a violation, and fines have been capped at $200. Previously, such possession was a Class B misdemeanor. The fine for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana has been lowered to $50, from $150.
The move to reduce fines and clear people’s records has been embraced by advocates of criminal justice reform, many of whom said criminal penalties for using marijuana fell disproportionately on black and Hispanic residents.
Khalil A. Cumberbatch, an advocate who was pardoned by Mr. Cuomo in 2014 after serving time for a robbery conviction, said in a statement that expunging marijuana records “gives people a new lease on life, removing the suffocating stain of stigma that prevents so many from reaching their highest potential.”
State Senator Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn, a co-sponsor of the bill, said he hoped lawmakers will build on this “first step.”
“I represent Brownsville; that was ground zero for a lot of this,” he said of marijuana enforcement. Expunging records “is just the beginning of the state recognizing the errors of that war.”
In February, a study from John Jay College found that “blacks and Hispanics consistently had higher rates of arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession compared to whites.”
Kevin Sabet, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an advocacy group, said he embraced expunging low-level offenses, but not full legalization.
“We don’t want people in prison for marijuana use,” Mr. Sabet said. “But the criminal sanctions on marijuana is not a reason to commercialize and normalize marijuana.”
Mr. Sabet said he wanted to see marijuana possession likened to driving over the speed limit. “It’s something discouraged,” he said, “but it’s not something that is going to destroy your life if you’re caught doing it.”
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