Over the last several months, there has been a long back and forth between lawmakers when it comes to legalizing cannabis for adult-use in the state of New York. Unfortunately, this year things have come to an end without lawmakers passing a legalization bill. Instead, they settled for a decriminalization law that aims to expand on efforts that have been in place for decades in the state. While it may not be the huge step forward that many had hoped for, it is still another small step in the right direction now that Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed the legislation.
“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.
Now that it has been signed by Cuomo, the bill will take effect within the next 30 days – reducing unlawful marijuana possession to a misdemeanor punishable by a fine. The new law will make possession of two ounces or less a fined offense rather than continuing to make arrests and flood courts with unnecessary possession cases. According to FBI data, provided by Reuters, over 360,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in New York between 2008 and 2017 – and technically, the state decriminalized cannabis years ago.
One of the most important factors included in this bill is the fact that it provides a way for people who have already been criminally convicted of marijuana possession to have their records expunged. There are estimates that nearly 600,000 New Yorkers will be able to immediately benefit from the option of having past convictions expunged.
“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,” said Cuomo.
It may not be legalization, but it is certainly a start – and now it is official. In a month, thousands will have the opportunity to get their records expunged, opening opportunities in many areas that may not have been available to them because of “drug convictions”. Until New York lawmakers are able to come to an agreement over how to handle the regulation of cannabis, at least there won’t be any more unnecessary arrests over possession of a plant.