It’s official. New York State has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, as of today. Weed aficionados everywhere around the state are celebrating, as possession of up to two ounces is no longer punishable by arrest. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s goal of legalization of cannabis did not happen, however, under the new legislation, possession of less than one ounce will garner a fine of $50, while possession of one to two ounces has a maximum fine of $200. This law takes effect in thirty days.
Besides these changes, Gov. Cuomo’s new decree (PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR NY State Senate Bill S6579A!) enables those previously convicted in the state for possession of small amounts of “mary jane” to have their records expunged. NY state lawmakers did consider full legalization of marijuana for “recreational” use, however, the fine print was not agreed upon in time, so that piece of legislation was not passed in time. This new law takes aim at what Gov. Cuomo and other billed as unfair to minorities, impacting people of color disproportionately.
“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,” Cuomo said in a statement. “By providing individuals who have suffered the consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction with a path to have their records expunged and by reducing draconian penalties, we are taking a critical step forward in addressing a broken and discriminatory criminal justice process.”
New York City already had a similar law on the books for quite some time, unbeknownst to most. Since 1977, possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana was reduced to an infraction netting a $100 fine. Even so, marijuana in public view remained a misdemeanor. As the law stood, over 500,000 people weer arrested for possessing marijuana in public view between the years of 1997 and 2010. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio did order the NYPD to cease such arrests back in 2016, instead requesting that officers hand out summonses to offenders found smoking cannabis in public spaces.
During the much-debated “stop-and-frisk” policy of the NYPD, hidden marijuana that was found during the procedure, was deemed to be in public view, once it was visible to the officer(s) conducting the search.
Just as with changes in state law, this change in city police policy was meant to address the far higher rates of arrest of black people. In Manhattan, for example, persons of color were arrested at a rate that was a whopping fifteen times higher than white folks. The other clear advantage to this is freeing vital police resources to address more important criminal issues. Proponents of “broken windows” policy disagree; in their thinking, marijuana use, along with other petty infractions, may be a harbinger of far more devastating crimes.
Marijuana remains a Schedule I prohibited drug under Federal Law, although many states and municipalities have decriminalized marijuana, with some choosing to fully legalize recreational the drug. Even if New York passes the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Bill, this will still be the case, as the Federal Government has yet to act in changing marjiuana’s classification, keeping it alongside heroin as Schedule I, meaning there is no legitimate medical use for the substance, with a high potential for abuse, let alone recreational use. In comparison, fentanyl and cocaine remain Schedule II, oddly enough.
Author: Blaine Wise