Westchester County DA Unilaterally Decriminalizing Lower-Level Marijuana Possession

Written By: Robert Cox

WHITE PLAINS, NY — Westchester County is decriminalizing marijuana possession of two ounces or less.

Under this new policy, the possession of small amounts of marijuana will no longer result in a criminal conviction negating the collateral damage such a conviction might impose.

The changes in prosecution of these current laws with take effect Monday, Jan. 14, 2019: Unlawful Possession of Marijuana (Penal Law § 221.05, a Violation) and Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fifth Degree (Penal Law § 221.10, a Class B misdemeanor)

The Westchester County District Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute (i) the violation offense in Penal Law § 221.05, Unlawful Possession of Marijuana, and (ii) the B misdemeanor offense in Penal Law § 221.10 (2), Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fifth Degree, based on the possession of an aggregate weight of more than 25 grams, provided the person is only charged with those offenses.

Regarding the second charge, the DA’s Office will prosecute the B misdemeanor offense in Penal Law § 221.10 (1) only as a violation (under Penal Law § 221.05 for the Unlawful Possession of Marijuana) when a person possesses, in a public place, burning or publicly viewable marijuana, provided the person is only charged with this offense. This will avoid the stigma of a criminal record for many of our young people with long-lasting negative consequences disproportionate to the minor nature of the offense.

The District Attorney’s review of the prosecution of lower level marijuana offenses is ongoing, and further changes will be announced as they are adopted.

“After a careful review of marijuana cases in Westchester, as well as discussions with police, community leaders and advocates, we have made the decision to change how we prosecute such offenses,” said Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. “This decision not to prosecute specific cases will allow many people to move forward with their lives without the stigma attached to criminal records of any kind, records that cause discrimination in housing, job and school applications. Much of this has burdened our minority communities and we believe it is time to rectify that.”

“This change in how low-level marijuana cases are handled is also aimed at a better use of public resources. What has been spent on arrests and prosecutions can now be used to focus on more serious crimes,” Scarpino added.

Scarpino is urging Governor Cuomo and state legislators to create a uniform approach to prosecuting marijuana offenses and end the disparity currently in place from county to county.