New York’s efforts to legalize cannabis are moving about as slowly as its deteriorating subway system that’s been in a state of emergency since 2017. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office is making strides with decriminalization, however, offering two free expedited community-based sessions this week to expunge previous convictions for low-level cannabis offenses.
As part of Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s overall Justice 2020 criminal justice reform program, NYPD has stopped arresting people for smoking weed and Gonzalez is no longer prosecuting minor possession and public smoking cases. There are, of course, exceptions and pertain to those “who pose a threat to public safety (e.g. driving with burning marijuana); create a genuine nuisance (e.g. smoking on public transportation or in a schoolyard where children are exposed to smoke); or are involved in violent criminal activity (i.e. ‘drivers of crime’).” Since adopting the policy change, possession cases dropped by a staggering 98.5 percent from 349 in Jan. to only five as of Oct. 2018.
Simply decriminalizing doesn’t help the predominantly minority communities that have been long been targeted for these minor offenses, which is why Brooklyn will join initiatives, like the recent National Expungement Week in October and state proposal HB 2367 in Illinois, to overturn previous marijuana offenses.
Under the new program that rolled out Sept. 1, anyone with a past conviction for a misdemeanor cannabis possession can meet with a defense attorney to assist with counsel and paperwork to file a motion to erase their record. The penal laws for marijuana possession that qualify for expungement are: PL 221.15, PL 221.10, and PL 221.05. In turn, the District Attorney’s Office will consent to the motions and ask a judge to vacate records. The DA or judge reserves the right to reject the motion if it pertains to prior convictions for certain violent felonies or sexual assault, however. But, there’s no need to show up to court.
Working with local legal advocacy groups, such as: the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, Brooklyn Law School, and the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law; the efforts being made in Brooklyn represent the first of its kind in New York State. These initiatives are designed to serve as a model for future policies across the remaining four boroughs and other counties.
In a push to expedite the masses affected by former policies that can impact anything from employment to immigration status, the District Attorney’s Office will hold free sessions today from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Office of Assembly Member Tremaine Wright (1360 Fulton Street, Room 417) BedStuy and Saturday, Dec. 15 from 10 a.m. to noon at SUNY Downstate Medical Center (450 Clarkson Avenue) in Flatbush. The only requirement is arriving in person with a form of identification (bringing any additional paperwork about your past conviction always helps, too). For those that can’t make this week’s sessions, there are plans to host additional events throughout 2019.
- Tuesday, December 11, 2018, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at the Office of Assembly Member Tremaine Wright, 1360 Fulton Street, Room 417 in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
- Saturday, December 15, 2018, 10 a.m. – 12 noon at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, 450 Clarkson Avenue in Flatbush.
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