Lawmakers in New York have agreed to decriminalize possession of cannabis and the bill has gone to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk to be signed into law.
Legislation that sought to legalize recreational cannabis use in the state died on Wednesday after Cuomo and both houses of the state legislature broke down. They could not agree on where revenue made from taxing marijuana sales would go and it had to be shelved, for 2019 at least.
Instead lawmakers stormed ahead with a separate bill that decriminalizes possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. Anyone found with less than an ounce of cannabis will be given a fine of up to $50, while anyone with between one and two ounces can be fined no more than $200, while no criminal proceedings will be issued.
It gained approval from the state Senate on Thursday evening and the Assembly gave it the green light this morning. It now heads to Cuomo for a signature, and he is expected to sign it into law, as he has previously endorsed the bill.
It also expunges the records of around 600,000 New Yorkers – most black and Latino – that have been convicted of possessing small amounts of cannabis.
“Communities of color have borne the brunt of New York State’s marijuana drug laws,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “Our justice system directly reflects who we are as a society and that is why the Senate Majority is taking action to fix this broken system,”
She called it a momentous first step in tackling racial disparities caused by the war on drugs. Sponsor Sen. Jamaal Bailey referred to it as a step in the right direction for communities blighted by the heavy-handed campaign against marijuana, although he noted that the goal remains legalization of adult-use cannabis.
That effort will have to be delayed after the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act fizzled out this week. Yet New York is clearly edging towards a legal industry for adult-use cannabis in the not-too-distant future.
For the meantime, Bailey hopes New Yorkers with cannabis possession convictions will now find it easier to gain access to education, employment and housing, allowing them to better provide for their families.