It’s been an exciting month for cannabis legalization in North America. Not just in Hawaii, which became the 26th state to decriminalize, but now also in New York where cannabis possession will no longer be a criminal offense.
New York has been through some exciting iterations when it comes to the state’s official policy on cannabis. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has, more or less, consistently supported the legalization of cannabis for medical patients, and now for everyone else; but only to a degree.
As Cuomo explained after signing legislation S.6579A/A.8420, making cannabis possession no longer a criminal offense and expunging some cannabis convicts, “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 spoke in no uncertain terms, and people from across the political spectrum welcomed his statement.
Cuomo further explained, according to the Associated Press, “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.”
This means that starting August 28th, the charge for unlawful cannabis possession in the state of New York will be punishable by a fine of $50 to $200, similar to a parking ticket, as opposed to a crime.
The new bill follows a trend of cannabis legalization in North America, and further afield. Recently Hawaii became the 26th state of America to decriminalize cannabis. Many seasoned senators are also pro-cannabis legalization, and some have spoken out strongly on the matter.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said regarding the new bill in New York, “Decriminalizing marijuana is an essential part of reforming our state’s broken justice system. For too long, communities of color have been disproportionately targeted and negatively impacted. The Senate Democratic Majority will continue our efforts for full legalization and regulation of marijuana, and today’s decriminalization is a good first step.”
At the same time, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also spoke passionately about the new legislation, “This law is an important step in righting decades of injustice caused by the state’s current drug laws,” he said.
“Decriminalizing marijuana and expunging records for those with low-level offenses will go a long way towards helping our communities, and especially people of color, who have been devastated by them. By removing the barriers and stigma 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 new legislation by no means fully legalizes cannabis, but it does make policing it more fair and reasonable. As well as reducing the punishment for possession to a civil violation and not a criminal one, certain cannabis convicts will have their records expunged retroactively.
As Senator Jamaal T. Bailey pointed out, “Marijuana possession gives those convicted a criminal record that will follow them throughout their lives, potentially limiting their access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment leading to a potential inability to provide for their families.”
The new move is a step in the right direction as many states fall into line and start the process of cannabis legalization. The road is long and windy and also very tricky. However, states like Colorado and California have seen some success with their transition from cannabis prohibition to recreationally legal. It remains to be seen how the new bill will affect New Yorkers, especially those with previous cannabis convictions.