BUFFALO, N.Y. — New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes has been a longtime champion for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana.
Despite the passage of both in New York State, Peoples-Stokes believes there is still work to be done in our communities.
On Saturday, her team, along with local legal partners, held an expungement clinic at Gerard Place in Buffalo to help people with prior low-level marijuana convictions.
- Daemen College Paralegal Studies Program;
- Neighborhood Legal Services;
- University at Buffalo School of Law;
- Minority Bar Foundation;
- Legal Aid Bureau;
- UB Law Alumni Association;
- Center for Elder Law and Justice.
"We're here to help, and we always have been here to help, so we're thankful for this opportunity to be a part of this," said Larry Waters, a staff attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services.
This goes back to the 2019 Marijuana Expungement bill, which allows for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana and expunges the records of those with low-level convictions.
Representatives with Peoples-Stokes' office said there are roughly 5,000 residents in the City of Buffalo impacted by these convictions.
"There are a lot of people in our community, especially Black and Brown communities, who were adversely affected by the war on drugs, and unfortunately these people have faced adversity from angles, from employment, to getting access to education, to housing," said Vanessa Glushefski, the director of research and project development with Peoples-Stokes' office.
Added Peoples-Stokes: "What matters is they will have a second chance on life. Clearly I understand not everybody's gonna relish in this. They're not going to maybe appreciate it, and they're not going to use it to their advantage, but I believe the vast majority of people will, and that's why we're doing this, and quite frankly, it's very gratifying."
While these efforts have always been a priority to the Assembly Majority Leader, she explained the timing now is critical.
"It's important to do it now, in light of the fact that now the product that they were incarcerated for and having a record for is now a legal product. So if there are opportunities for people to make a lot of money, and I'm sure some people will, we should not have other people who are still carrying the baggage of a felony on their record that prohibits their ability to move forward in their lives," Peoples-Stokes said.
Organizers told 2 On Your Side the clinics provide an opportunity for people to meet with a licensed attorney and learn more about the law, in order to make an informed decision about whether to apply for the destruction of their records in question.
For people who missed the clinics, Peoples-Stokes said they can also call her office for guidance.
"Or they can wait for the process to happen on its own, because it eventually will. The Office of Court Administration, as well as the Department of Criminal Justice Services, are working," Peoples-Stokes said.
"They've been given two years to figure out how to remove these records from everybody. This clinic says that you don't have to wait for those two years. You can come to talk to some of these very smart legal people here, and they can help walk you through that process earlier."
Glushefski told 2 On Your Side they will be continuing these efforts, and they're even planning for a fall clinic series, in addition to other outreach initiatives.