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How Does New York Decriminalization of Marijuana Affect Employment?

Posted on in Civil Service Employees

New York employment law attorneysThere has been a wave of states that have taken the view that possession of marijuana should not be a criminal offense. Accordingly, many of them have been working diligently to change their laws. New York has recently passed and put into effect a law that decriminalizes possession of marijuana.

Previously, New York was one of 29 states and the District of Columbia that legalized use of marijuana for medical purposes. However, even though medicinal use of marijuana was allowed in New York, the possession and use of marijuana remained illegal under federal law. That still is the case, even with marijunana being decriminalized on the state level.

Given this obvious contradiction between federal and state laws, there are several legal issues still unresolved. These concerns will likely be addressed through the years in the court systems to finally bring some clarity as to what is permitted regarding marijuana under both federal and state laws..

What Is Now Different Under New York Marijuana Laws?

In announcing the new marijuana law coming into effect, Governor Andrew Cuomo stated, “[for] too long communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana and have suffered the lifelong consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction,” adding, “[today] is the start of a new chapter in the criminal justice system.”

The law not only makes possession of marijuana not a criminal offense, it also expunges, records of past marijuana possession convictions for those who qualify and reduces the penalty for being found in possession of small amounts. However, it’s important to note that New York has not altogether legalized marijuana. Instead, the law now makes possession of marijuana a violation rather than a misdemeanor as it was the case previously. This means you can still be arrested for violations related to marijuana possession, but you just will not face the penalties prescribed for misdemeanors.

The following is a snapshot of what the new law provides:

  • Possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is now considered a violation, not a criminal offense. As noted above, this means you can still be arrested for a marijuana violation, but you will not be subject to prison or having a permanent criminal record as these violations are not considered criminal.
  • The peenalty for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana is reduced by half from $100 to $50 and will not be enhanced or made higher because of one’s criminal history, as would have been the case under the prior misdemeanor law.
  • Past convictions for marijuana possession of less than 25 grams will be automatically expunged, which means those with such records will have them expunged without incurring any costs or doing anything.
  • The law adds marijuana to the definition of smoking under the Public Health Law, which means smoking marijuana is prohibited anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited.

Effect of the New Marijuana Law on Employment

Given possession of marijuana is a violation, this new law should not affect an employer’s right to continue conducting drug testing as a matter of policy. Also, if an employee is impaired by drug use to work, the employer certainly has every right to prohibit that employee from working. In short, New York employers still have the right to enforce drug-free workplace policies. 

A Manhattan Employment Lawyer Can Help

At Watford Jackson, PLLC, we have more than 40 years of experience handling a variety of issues and our lawyers know how to handle complex and emerging legal issues such as decriminalization of possession of marijuana and its effect on employment. If you are confronted and must resolve an issue related to you or your employee being found in possession of marijuana, contact an experienced New York City employment law attorney today. Call 1-855-WAT-JACK or 1-855-928-5225 for an appointment.

 

Sources:

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s6579

https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-governor-andrew-m-cuomo-marijuana-decriminalization-law-going-effect-today

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