Interviewer: We’ll talk about illegal drugs. In New York State, are there different classes of illegal drugs, or for instance, is marijuana treated the same way as cocaine or heroin?
New York State Has Different Offense Levels for Different Drugs
Stuart Austin: Yes. There are different classes and the Public Health Board classifies them, and then the law treats them in different ways. For instance, marijuana is treated differently than cocaine. Then there’s a third aspect where a lot of the District Attorney’s Offices, for plea bargaining purposes, will treat certain drugs differently.
For instance, heroin and cocaine are both controlled substances, so plea- bargaining guidelines for Nassau County and Suffolk County are different between somebody who possesses heroin and somebody who possesses cocaine.
What Are the Most Common Drugs Involved in Cases?
Interviewer: In defending clients for illegal possession or distribution cases, which drugs are most commonly involved?
Stuart Austin: Marijuana’s always sort of been a very big one, but because it’s treated very leniently in the law, it’s not as important. Cocaine is also a very big one, and we’re seeing a lot of cases now that concern Vicodin prescriptions or Oxycodone. Then heroin, which used to be bigger, has fallen on the wayside a little bit. Ecstasy is also up-and-coming.
Are Marijuana-Related Offenses Treated Leniently?
Interviewer: You’re seeing a lot more marijuana, a lot more ecstasy, but other drugs are kind of falling out of favor. You said for marijuana, it’s treated a lot more lightly than other illegal drugs. How long has it been like that? Have the laws recently changed or has it always been treated a lot more lightly?
Stuart Austin: No, marijuana cases, for the most part, have always been treated lightly. The laws have been written that way for many, many years. The interesting thing is you can still find senators and congressmen who put it in legislation every couple of years to legalize marijuana because it is seen as such a familiar low-level drug. Unfortunately as I said, it can still have ramifications, convictions, because a bank still sees it as a drug and is probably less likely to hire somebody with a drug conviction. It can actually also affect if you’re a student getting student aid. This is because financial institutions can pull your aid if you’re convicted of a drug crime.
Will a Juvenile Drug Offense Conviction Affect Student Aid Eligibility?
Interviewer: What if you have a drug offense as a juvenile? Does it still affect your student aid, or is it just if you’re an adult?
Stuart Austin: As a juvenile, you wouldn’t be getting the aid from the New York State government, so it would not have an effect. Also with regards to somebody who’s underage, they’re much more likely to have their record sealed so that it would not be disseminated to the public later on. We give them a second chance as a youthful indiscretion kind of thing.