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New York Drug Possession Laws

Overview of New York Drug Possession Laws

Although New York drug possession laws divide controlled-substance and marijuana-related offenses into two separate groups, the elements of the offenses are the same. In order to obtain a conviction for possession of a controlled substance or marijuana, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the substance was a controlled substance; the defendant possessed the substance; his or her possession was knowing; and the possession was unlawful.

The defendant's possession of the illegal drug may be physical or "constructive." In the latter case, the prosecution must establish that the defendant had control over the person or place where the drugs were found; however, the defendant need not be physically present in order for his or her constructive possession to be proved.  

New York Statute

Controlled Substances Offenses
Penal Code Article 220

Offenses Involving Marijuana
Penal Code Article 221

The New York Penal Code identifies six levels of criminal possession of controlled substances and marijuana, respectively. First-degree possession of a controlled substance is a class A-1 felony; criminal possession of the same is a class A misdemeanor. Separately, first-degree possession of marijuana (weighing more than ten pounds in the aggregate) is a class C felony, while possession alone is a violation.

In addition to controlled substances and marijuana, possession of precursors of controlled substances, precursors of methamphetamines, hypodermic instruments, and methamphetamine manufacturing material may also violate the law.


  • Lack of knowledge
  • Temporary and lawful possession
  • Prescription medicine
  • Insufficient quantity
  • Infancy (for persons less than 16 years old)

Penalties and Sentences

A defendant convicted of a class A-1 felony (possession of eight or more ounces of substances containing a narcotic drug or 5,760 milligrams of methadone) may be sentenced to a term of 8 to 20 years imprisonment or a fine of $100,000. Convictions of class B to class E felonies range from sentences of a minimum of one year to a maximum of 1.5 to 9 years or fines ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 for class B and class C felonies.

Unlawful possession of marijuana is a violation and is subject to imprisonment of no more than 15 days or a fine in an amount less than $250.

The penalties described above are a direct result of legislative reform in the last decade, which reform repositioned controlled-substance and marijuana possession offenses to be subject to less severe, determinate sentencing and a period of post-release supervision. The reforms also introduced a judicial diversion program wherein an eligible defendant (one charged with a class B to class E felony and who satisfies additional requirements) may earn a substantial reduction in or dismissal of the charges by completing a drug treatment program.

Note: State laws are constantly changing - please contact a New York attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.  

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