Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announced his office would no longer pursue misdemeanor charges against individuals arrested for low-level possession of marijuana. All current and incoming cases for those accused of possessing smaller amounts of marijuana will be reduced to non-criminal violations.
This announcement follows the New York State Legislature’s passage of a bill that expands marijuana decriminalization by reducing possession of two ounces (57 grams) or less from a misdemeanor offense to a non-criminal violation.
The DA’s office said that, “While Governor Cuomo is expected to sign the bill, the law would not go into effect until after 30 days after it is signed.”
In the interest of justice, office will reduce the charge ahead of the decriminalization law going into effect. Individuals who are found guilty of a violation are subject to a ticket or a fine, and their conviction will not appear on their criminal record.
The DA’s office will continue to prosecute those charged with possession of larger amount of marijuana, as well as those charged with selling marijuana – which remains illegal under New York state penal law.
As part of his announcement, Flynn encouraged any person previously convicted of criminal possession of marijuana in the fifth degree (221.10), a Class “B” misdemeanor, to file a motion to have their criminal record sealed.
The DA’s office continues to dismiss outstanding bench warrants throughout Erie County. In February, Flynn announced he would vacate outstanding warrants on violation and low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. The initiative began in Buffalo City Court, and his action effectively cleared the entire docket of warrants for low-level marijuana arrests while dismissing the associated charges for 35 individuals who were charged with smoking or possessing marijuana.
Assistant District Attorney Danielle D’Abate, chief of the community prosecution unit, has been gathering warrant data on marijuana-related offenses, starting with the largest municipalities in the county where individuals have been charged only with violation or misdemeanor marijuana possession.
“With decriminalization legislation expected to be enacted into law, I will no longer pursue a criminal charge against a person for a small amount of marijuana,” Flynn said. “I do not believe people should find themselves in the criminal justice system and unable to apply for employment, student loans, or other services because of a low-level marijuana charge. Also, I encourage anyone with a previous applicable conviction to file a motion to have their record sealed.”