Can You Get Arrested in NYC for Marijuana Now that It’s Legal?

The short answer is yes. Even though possession and consumption of certain amounts of marijuana are legal in New York, there are still limitations in place to protect New York City residents from being negatively impacted by those who consume marijuana.

Driving While High

Predictably, the government is balancing access to marijuana with public safety. For this reason, driving under the influence of marijuana is still illegal in New York. In fact, the law has committed resources to developing better technology to detect drugged drivers. Driving while high can land you in deep trouble both criminally and civilly, as below.

Criminal Consequences

In the criminal context, the most obvious way you can get in trouble for driving while high is by being hit with a DWI-drug charge. New York defines two DWI offenses criminalizing driving while high on marijuana. They are driving while your ability is impaired by drugs and driving while your ability is impaired by either multiple drugs or drugs combined with alcohol. 

If you are convicted of either of these misdemeanor offenses, you face fines, jail time, a suspended license, and a criminal record. Driving while high can also make you eligible for other serious criminal charges. For example, if you drive high, get in an accident, and cause another person’s death, you could be charged with felony vehicular manslaughter. A conviction could send you to jail for up to seven years.

The new law limits our search of a vehicle based on the smell of marijuana to areas a driver can easily reach. If you are pulled over, police officers have the right to inspect the vehicle upon suspicion of marijuana (odor, substance in plain view, and/or a smoking pipe). If marijuana is discovered it often escalates the investigation to determine if the operator is under the influence of drugs. It is the officer’s experience and training that will ultimately determine if the situation warrants an arrest – for driving under the influence or possession over the legal amount. More information on drug possession in New York can be found on our website here.

Civil Consequences

Driving while high can also land you in trouble in civil court. If you get into a car accident, the other driver can sue you civilly for compensation for their injuries. The outcomes of these lawsuits depend on how much each driver was to blame for causing the accident. If it is established in court that you were driving under the influence of marijuana, the court will be much more likely to think you were at fault, since you were driving while impaired. Depending on the severity of the injuries to the other party or parties involved it could lead you to be responsible to pay a significant amount of money.

Marijuana on or Near School Property

New York’s law created a new Article 222 of the penal law, which includes a provision that prohibits smoking marijuana in schools, school vehicles, and on school grounds.

In some states, if police are called to the scene or marijuana use is noticed on or within 100 feet of a school, that individual may receive a criminal court summons, and then have to appear in court at a later date. New York City does not enforce this around its schools because smoking marijuana is now legal and accepted.

Marijuana Use in Public

Under the new law, you can light up wherever tobacco smoking or vaping is allowed. By the same token, you still cannot smoke anything — including marijuana – at most workplaces, restaurants, or bars, nor can you smoke it in public spaces. Of course, private companies set their own rules but, to my knowledge, none allow smoking marijuana.

Its use is also not allowed in motor vehicles in New York (even if they are parked). In reality, if we see you walking down the street, relaxing in a park, or sitting on a public bench while smoking marijuana, we may not engage you, but the possibility does exist.

You should also know that adults are limited to the amount of marijuana they can carry: up to three ounces of marijuana (and up to 24 grams if concentrated). If you are caught with more than what is allowed by law, and this is proven in court, you will be arrested.

If you choose to smoke marijuana, do not run afoul of the limits to the new law. If you do, you may be facing penalties and/or jail time. And, if you injure someone while high the consequences will be even more severe. It’s best to exercise good judgment, just as you would if drinking alcohol.

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