Albany, N.Y. — The Governor of New York signed a bill Monday that enhances the state’s current cannabis decriminalization law. The new law decreases penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis and allows for the expungement of some past convictions.
Less expensive penalties
As of Aug. 28, getting caught in possession of under one ounce of cannabis will result in a $50 fine, statewide, or a maximum penalty of $200 for possession of one to two ounces.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the new legislation into law, making unlawful possession of cannabis a violation, similar to a parking ticket, rather than a crime.
Additionally, the law also requires that conviction records assigned to low-level or non-violent marijuana cases either be marked as expunged or destroyed.
Toeing the party line
Parroting the familiar rhetoric of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other harm reduction and drug policy reform organizations, the governor said in a statement. “Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice once and for all.”
Advocates for adult-use cannabis legalization acknowledge the law is a step forward, but also criticize that it falls short of addressing a plethora of negative consequences that come with having a cannabis violation.
Deputy Director for the New York Drug Policy Alliance, Melissa Moore says, “This bill fails to address the collateral damages of prohibition, including affected individuals’ access to employment and housing, as well as address family separations, immigration rights, and other avenues to economic security. Given the extensive, life-changing inequities created by discriminatory and draconian enforcement policies, true justice requires the allocation of tax revenue to community reinvestment programs for impacted communities. We are incredibly proud of our communities and supporters for generating the momentum necessary to force legislators to pass a law authorizing automatic expungement.”
Under the decriminalization bill, the threat of probation violations and removal still looms large for people who are found in possession of marijuana. One gentleman who is married to a U.S. citizen and has two American-born children is on the ICE removal list for being in possession of a .2g of pot nearly two decades ago.
Just Say Know
Moore believes the latest incarnation of decriminalization (cannabis was decriminalized initially in 1977, in New York) will continue to allow authorities to target communities and people of color for cannabis enforcement. Her purview stems this version of decriminalization, like the previous version, is still left up to the discretion of law enforcement. “While it is disappointing that our leaders have once again failed to address marijuana criminalization wholesale, we will continue to fight on behalf of comprehensive marijuana reform in New York,” she says. “Decriminalization alone is not enough to deal with the full impact of marijuana prohibition and gives law enforcement discretion. Addressing the legacy of harm from prohibition and targeted enforcement by comprehensively legalizing and reinvesting in communities is what policymakers need to deliver on. While it is disappointing that our leaders have once again failed to prioritize racial justice in New York, we will continue to fight on behalf of comprehensive reforms.”
According to New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, at least 24,400 people will have their records expunged while more than 200,000 convictions for low-level marijuana offenses, will be sealed. State lawmakers attempted to legalize adult use cannabis this year. Fully legalizing marijuana was purportedly one of Gov. Cuomo’s top legislative goals for 2019. However, the legislation stalled after Democratic state leaders failed to reach a consensus on crucial details during the final days of the legislative session.
Associated Press contributed to this report.