New York’s marijuana legalization law, enacted in 2021, not only allows adults 21 and older to legally possess, purchase and consume cannabis, it also facilitates the clearing of cannabis-related criminal records.

In this guide, we’ll talk you through the process of cannabis expungements under New York’s marijuana laws.

The information herein does not constitute legal advice. You should consult with professional legal counsel before acting on any information contained in this guide.

What does expungement mean?

First off, what do we mean by expungement?

In short, it means that a case has been vacated, dismissed and essentially deemed void. This means that if a potential employer or landlord asks whether you have a criminal record, you can confidently say no.

It also means that your record will no longer show up on a criminal background check, so you will not be potentially deprived of benefits or services pertaining to housing, employment, licensing or ACS proceedings.

The only exceptions to this are if you apply for a gun license or to become a police officer. Then your cannabis-related criminal record is still visible. Discuss this with a lawyer if this affects you.

Which marijuana convictions are automatically expunged?

Multiple old and new penal law cannabis convictions will be expunged automatically under provisions of New York’s marijuana legalization law.

In essence, individuals who have been convicted of possessing up to 16 ounces of marijuana or selling up to 25 grams will have those records automatically expunged.

The full list of offenses eligible for automatic expungement are as follows:

Old penal law (“PL”) offenses

  • PL 221.05
  • PL 221.10
  • PL 221.15
  • PL 221.20
  • PL 221.35
  • PL 221.40
  • PL 240.36
  • PL 240.37
  • PL 220.03 or PL 220.06 (if the controlled substance in question was concentrated cannabis)

New penal offenses

  • PL 222.10
  • PL 222.15
  • PL 222.25
  • PL 222.45

For these offenses, New York’s criminal justice system must expunge the records within two years. That said, it is already the case that any expungeable PL 221 offense should not be flagged on a background check.

Why a lawyer may still be necessary

Some marijuana-related convictions are not eligible for automatic expungement, but that doesn’t mean you need to be saddled with a criminal record for the rest of your life.

You can still submit an application to have your cannabis conviction vacated, or to have your sentence reduced, and a lawyer can help you through this process.

Automatic expungements are also not possible for non-US citizens. If you are not from the US, but live in New York and have a cannabis conviction, then you will also have to file an application to have this record expunged.

Even if your conviction is automatically expunged, you may consider having the physical record of it destroyed. This also needs to happen in consultation with a lawyer and it is not necessarily advisable, especially if you do not have US citizenship.

Proof of expungement

Proof that your record has been expunged is not automatically provided. You can, however, file an application for your Certificate of Disposition from the court, or request a copy of your RAP sheet.

Further assistance

More information on this and how to access your records can be found with the support of Legal Aid NYC’s Case Closed Project here.

You can also use an online directory to find a marijuana lawyer near you for further advice.

Related reading: Marijuana Expungements