Unless you’re a registered user or caregiver under New York’s Compassionate Care Act, it’s illegal to possess marijuana in New York. In fact, the courts still take marijuana offenses seriously. Possession of marijuana can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on how much marijuana the police find in your possession.
The degrees of marijuana possession
In New York, possession of marijuana can be a very serious offense. If you have ten pounds of marijuana or more, you face a class C felony. The most serious offense is possession of marijuana in the first degree. Second, third, fourth and fifth degree marijuana possession charges are progressively less serious for smaller amounts of marijuana.
Criminal possession of marijuana in the third degree involves possessing at least eight ounces of marijuana. If you have sixteen ounces of marijuana, you can face a charge of possession in the second degree. Possession in the third degree is a class E felony under N.Y. Pen. Law § 221.20. You can spend up to four years in prison if you’re convicted of the charge. You can also face a fine of up to $5,000 and spend significant time on probation.
You and your NYC criminal attorney should create a game plan that defends you against the charges in every way possible. One way to defend yourself is to argue that the state doesn’t have sufficient evidence that you possessed the marijuana. It’s up to the state to prove that you knew that you had power and control over the marijuana.
For example, four friends are on a camping trip. Law enforcement finds a bag of marijuana sitting near the camp fire. No one is sitting near the marijuana, and no one claims to know who the marijuana belongs to. In this case, the state’s case might fail because there’s no way for them to prove that you actually had the marijuana.
Your attorney can also explore possible defenses that relate to the state proving that the substances in your possession are actually marijuana. In addition, the state needs to prove that you knew you were in possession of the marijuana as opposed to accidentally carrying someone else’s things. Finally, if the state violated search and seizure laws when they gathered evidence against you, this can also be a defense to the charges.
Compassionate Care Act
There are limited circumstances where a person can legally possess marijuana in New York. This is the case where a person is a registered medical marijuana user or caregiver under New York’s Compassionate Care Act. The circumstances that make marijuana use legal under the Act are carefully controlled. A person must be a registered user or caregiver before they’re caught with marijuana. To receive a medical marijuana card, a person must have a qualifying medical condition and a certification from an authorized doctor that endorses their medical marijuana use.
Finally, New York courts use a drug court program to help non-violent drug offenders stop abusing substances. The theory behind the drug courts is that people need treatment to conquer drug use instead of only punishment from the court system. To take advantage of drug court, the person charged pleads guilty to the offense and enters the drug court program.
While in the drug court, participants obtain treatment for substance use and prove their sobriety with drug testing. Criminal possession of marijuana in the third degree is a serious offense, so your qualification to drug court is not automatic. If you successfully complete the program, your charges can be reduced or dismissed.