Smoking Weed in New York Only a Fine, 150,000 Records to Be Expunged

New Yorkers can finally light up in the streets without catching a criminal charge.

Yesterday, New York state’s new decriminalization bill officially went into effect. As a result, getting caught with weed is no longer punishable by jail time. Instead, possession of marijuana will now be punished only by a fine. Additionally, the new law provides a way for people with prior marijuana convictions to have their records expunged.

New York’s New Decriminalization Laws

Now that decriminalization is in full effect in New York state, people caught in possession of marijuana will no longer face the possibility of getting jail time.

Instead, if a person is busted with less than an ounce of cannabis, they will be fined $50. Similarly, if a person is caught with between one and two ounces of weed, they will be fined up to a maximum of $200.

In addition to changing the punishments for marijuana possession, New York’s new laws also work to address previous marijuana-related convictions. Specifically, the laws provide a way for people with low level weed charges to have their records expunged.

According to CNN, there are more than 150,000 people in the state who could qualify to have prior convictions expunged.

More specifically, roughly 202,000 convictions ranging from the 1970s until this year will be sealed. From there, once a record is sealed, individuals will need to request to have the records fully expunged.

Working to Address Racially Disparate Policing

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the new bill last month. At the time of the signing, he said that decriminalization laws could help address racially disparate policing.

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice” he 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.”

There have been earlier attempts to lessen penalties for marijuana charges. Despite this, multiple studies have shown ongoing racial problems in the enforcement of weed laws.

For example, a study published in 2017 revealed some troubling trends in New York City. Published by the Drug Policy Alliance, the report found that white people and people of color consume cannabis at more or less the same rate, with white people consuming slightly more.

Despite that, people of color were arrested far more frequently. In fact, the study showed that people of color made up 86 percent of weed arrests in NYC between 2014 and 2016.

Another study published this year supports these findings. According to researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “Blacks and Hispanics consistently had higher rates of arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession compared to Whites.”

Notably, New York failed to legalize cannabis earlier this year. Despite support from Gov. Cuomo and other lawmakers, legalization did not materialize.

In large part, that was because many lawmakers were not satisfied with key aspects of legalization proposals. In particular, there were concerns that the proposals would not adequately address racial inequity.

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