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New York Announces Application Process For Destroying Marijuana Convictions

Over 150,000 marijuana possession convictions were automatically expunged last summer in New York State, effectively sealing them from public view. The law applied to people guilty of unlawful possession of marijuana in the first and second degrees (Penal Laws 221.05 and 221.10). Starting today people will have even more options due to the introduction of the Application to Destroy Expunged Marijuana Conviction Records.

New York State's Court System announced this new policy in a press release on Friday. Unlike the automatic expungements last summer this request will require filling out the application via the court where the conviction was processed.

The application is a quick one-page form, available both online or in-person at a courthouse - you have to disclose your basic personal information, county and court of conviction, court docket, criminal justice tracking number (CJTN), and your New York State Identification Number (NYSID). The form can be submitted by mail with notarization or in-person where the charge and conviction were processed with no required application fee.

Sealed or expunged convictions under the new policy will only be unsealable in two circumstances. The first being if the person is applying for a job in law enforcement, and the second being if the person is applying for a pistol license.

To put in the words of the court, "If you decide to apply for destruction, the arrest, prosecution and criminal history records related to your expunged marijuana conviction are destroyed, and there will be no record of your arrest or conviction for these charges. In other words, it will be like it never happened,".

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) stated “By providing individuals who have suffered the consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction with a path to have their records expunged and by reducing draconian penalties, we are taking a critical step forward in addressing a broken and discriminatory criminal justice process,” a narrative that is even more vital in today's tumultuous country.

The disparity speaks volumes where in 2018, a New York Times analysis found that during the three years prior, black people in Manhattan were 15 times more likely than whites to be arrested on marijuana charges. Cuomo stated, “Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice.”

The volume of non-violent possession offences has been staggering for some time, according to FBI data, 4-in-10 U.S. drug arrests in 2018 were for the possession, sale, or manufacture of Marijuana. Police officers made about 663,000 arrests for marijuana-related offences in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2018, amounting to 40% of the 1.65 million total drug arrests in the U.S. that year.

It comes as no surprise that around nine-in-ten U.S. marijuana arrests are for possession rather than selling or manufacturing. In 2018, 92% of marijuana arrests were for possession and 8% were for selling or manufacturing.

We continue to see a growing number of states legalizing or decriminalizing of marijuana-related offences, and steps being taken to address and work toward correcting what has been the unjust treatment of people stuck within a system with lifelong impacts. However, there is much work to be done.

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