Governor Cuomo signed the legislation to decriminalize the use of marijuana in the state of New York on Monday! Although the new law doesn’t legalize cannabis, it does lower the possession penalties and allows the expungement of certain convictions.
Penal Law 221.05 will reduce the fine of having marijuana in public places as well as cap it for unlawful possession from originally $100 to $50 for a first offense (click here for specifics). Along with that, people with previous cannabis-related conviction records will be expunged, but only certain offenses. This law will benefit 600,000 New Yorkers.
“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.”
In 1977, New York decriminalized the possession of a certain amount of marijuana, but of course, with any law, there was a loophole. Before, anyone who uses a small amount of marijuana in a public place or in “public view” can be arrested and charged with a criminal offense, rather than a violation. This loophole led to the arrests of thousands of people each year, who were mostly people of color. In 2015, for example, 88 percent of the 16,590 people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana in New York City were black or Latino.
With the new law, this loophole is eliminated. Those who were convicted for the possession of marijuana are given a criminal record. Having a criminal record can affect a person’s ability to gain access to education and find employment, which results in the inability to provide for themselves as well as their families. These discriminatory criminal justice policies unfairly targeted and negatively impacted these communities of color.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, “By removing the barriers and stigmas that come with these records, we clear the path for many New Yorkers to find a job, housing and go on to live successful and productive lives.”
The state’s previous marijuana laws heavily affected African American and Latino communities. The racial and ethnic inequality is finally addressed thanks to the new legislation, which will take effect thirty days after becoming law. As a result, marijuana enforcement will be more fair and equitable by the newly set law. Finally, the state of New York has taken steps towards ending the repressive cycle and towards a better future.