New York Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

The bill will become a law in 30 days.


New York state took a step toward more progressive marijuana laws. Specifically, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new decriminalization bill.

The new bill will amend how the state deals with possession of small amounts of marijuana. Importantly, the bill will also provide a way for people’s records to be expunged.

Ultimately, Cuomo said the new bill could help address the ongoing racial disparities inherent to cannabis prohibition laws.

New York State’s New Decriminalization Bill

Earlier today, Gov. Cuomo signed Senate Bill S6579A. The main focus of the bill is to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis. Along the way, the bill also includes provisions designed to address some of the social inequities of anti-cannabis policing.

The bill will go into full effect in New York 30 days after it becomes law. Under the terms of the new bill, it is no longer a criminal offense to possess or consume two ounces or less of cannabis.

Instead, these types of offenses will be punishable by a simple fee. Specifically, possessing or consuming between one to two ounces of marijuana will be punishable by a $200 fine. And possession or use of less than one ounce of cannabis will be punishable by a $50 fine.

Decriminalization bills like this one primarily affect cannabis law moving forward. In large part, they are designed to help limit the heavy-handedness of marijuana policing. But in an effort to extend the benefits of New York’s new decriminalization bill into the past, the law will also provide a way for previous marijuana offenses to be expunged.

Specifically, people convicted of certain types of low-level possession charges will now have a way to get those charges removed from their records.

Working Toward Social Equity

Cuomo and other lawmakers hope these two key features of the bill will help address some of the social inequities of anti-marijuana policing.

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.

He continued: “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.”

A study from John Jay College of Criminal Justice published in February 2019 showed how disparate policing is in New York. Specifically, it found that “Blacks and Hispanics consistently had higher rates of arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession compared to Whites.”

Cannabis Laws in New York

This is not the first time Gov. Cuomo has tried to decriminalize marijuana. In fact, he initially proposed it back in 2013. And earlier this year, he actually put the possibility of full legalization on the table.

At the beginning of the year, Gov. Cuomo said he wanted to include legalization in the year’s budget. But things eventually stalled out. In large part, that was because early bills failed to consider social equity adequately.

For example, progressive lawmakers raised several key concerns. Specifically, many worried that there were no provisions to ensure that communities of color have a stake in the future legal industry.

" Nick Lindsey : Nick is a Green Rush Daily writer reporting on all things cannabis. He currently lives in New York City.."