New York has some of the toughest drug laws in the country. But that wasn't always the case. Before the 1970s, drugs were largely viewed as a problem to be treated through rehabilitation and other social programs, rather than long prison sentences.
That all changed with the passage of New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws, which imposed severe sentences for drug crimes for the first time.
While some of the harsh penalties imposed by the Rockefeller Drug Laws have been reduced and possession of small amounts of marijuana has even been decriminalized, the legacy of the Rockefeller Drug Laws lives on in New York. Drug crimes are still treated very seriously in this state.
New York Drug Laws
New York divides many prescription and illegal drugs into five categories called "schedules," based on the drug's potential for abuse and addiction. Drugs that are listed in these schedules are known as "controlled substances."
Under New York law, it is illegal to manufacture, sell, prescribe, distribute, dispense, administer, possess or transport controlled substances, except as specifically permitted. For example, doctors may prescribe certain controlled substances to their patients in specific circumstances (although even doctors, hospitals and pharmacies must comply with strict regulations regarding controlled substances).
Common New York drug crimes include:
- Drug possession
- Sale or trafficking of drugs or the intent to sell drugs
- Manufacturing or producing drugs illegally
- Possession of equipment or chemicals used to manufacture drugs
- "Diversion" of drugs (such as prescription drugs) from their legally permitted purpose
Many prescription drugs are considered controlled substances, so it is also illegal to possess, distribute, or sell certain prescription drugs except under strictly regulated conditions (for example, when the drug was prescribed by a doctor and sold by a pharmacy). It is also illegal to have your prescription with you if you don't have it in the original prescription container that you received from the pharmacy.
Drug Crime Penalties
In New York, drug crimes may be felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are more serious crimes, and they are divided into five classes (A-E, with A being the most severe). However, even a misdemeanor drug crime conviction can have very serious consequences.
Whether a drug crime will be considered a felony or a misdemeanor in New York depends on a variety of factors, including:
- The type of drug. Penalties are generally higher for crimes involving drugs listed in higher schedules. The penalties for drug crimes involving Schedule I drugs will typically be higher than those for Schedule V drugs. Heroin and cocaine are schedule I drugs. Marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, and psilocybin (mushrooms), and MDMA ("Molly" or ecstasy) are also Schedule I drugs.
- The quantity or amount of the drug. Generally, the penalties are higher when the quantity of the drug is higher.
- What the accused person intended to do with the drug. Drug possession is generally a less serious crime than selling or intending to sell drugs. Prosecutors often infer an "intent to sell" based on how the drug is packaged, and if you possess paraphernalia such as a digital scale.
- The accused person's prior criminal history. Penalties tend to increase if a person has prior criminal convictions.
- Where the drug crime occurred. Penalties may be higher for drug crimes, particularly selling or intending to sell drugs, on or near school grounds.
Drug crime penalties vary considerably. For example, possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana doesn't even reach misdemeanor status. It is punishable by a $100 fine for first-time offenders. Contrast that with a potential 20 plus-year sentence for conviction of a class A drug felony.
The laws around marijuana possession and use continue to change. Since 1977, possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana was decriminalized, punishable by an infraction and a fine.
Collateral Consequences of Drug Crimes in New York
Beyond the potential prison time and fines, a drug conviction can have other consequences. There is often a stigma attached to drugs, so a drug conviction can cause problems in your family, personal and professional relationships.
A drug crime conviction will also stay on your record for a very long time, and this can impact your future employment, housing, and financial prospects. For example, it may be harder to get a job with a drug conviction on your record. Professionals who require a state license to practice (such as lawyers, doctors, and nurses) can lose their licenses if they are convicted of drug crimes. And if you work in law enforcement, even being arrested for a drug crime can put your job in danger. If you are convicted of certain crimes, you can be denied public housing and benefits. If you are a college student, you can become ineligible for student loans.
Some drug crime convictions can also result in a mandatory six-month suspension of your driver's license, even if the drug crime didn't occur anywhere near a vehicle.
Were you arrested for a drug crime in New York?
If you have been arrested for a drug crime, you could be facing prison time, large fines, the loss of your livelihood and other serious consequences. You need an experienced attorney who understands what you are going through and who knows how to fight to get drug crime charges reduced or eliminated.
At Frost & Kavanaugh, we understand what is at stake, and we know that you may be scared or overwhelmed when facing drug charges. We are experienced criminal defense attorneys who understand New York's complicated drug laws and how to fight to get the best outcome possible for our clients. Oftentimes, people commit these crimes because they are addicted, and they need treatment (not prison) for that addiction. We may be able to get you into a treatment program and get your arrest sealed, or even dismissed.
If you have been arrested for a drug crime, contact Frost & Kavanaugh as soon as possible. We know that drug crime arrests don't just happen during business hours. That's why you can always reach an attorney at Frost & Kavanaugh—day or night.