New York has finally decriminalized marijuana, making it the 16th state in the U.S. to do so. The decriminalization bill was signed into law on July 29 by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
With the new law, people who are caught in possession of small amounts — or less than two ounces — of marijuana would no longer face criminal charges. Instead of being considered a criminal offense, minor possession would only be equivalent to a misdemeanor and offenders will only face a fine.
More specifically, the possession of less than one ounce of weed will be punishable by a fine of up to $50 while the possession of one to two ounces of the drug will mean a fine of up to $200.
Unfair anti-drug policies and criminal justice system
The measure will also automatically expunge the records of those who were convicted of low-level marijuana crimes. This move will is an attempt at correcting the injustice that minorities have faced under the federal government’s so-called war on drugs.
In his statement, Gov. Cuomo noted that communities of color have been disproportionately affected by laws that governed cannabis for a very long time. According to him, the new law will put an end to this injustice once and for all.
Gov. Cuomo pointed out that by expunging the records of those who have suffered the consequences of an unjust cannabis conviction and “by reducing draconian penalties,” they are taking a progressive step towards addressing a discriminatory and broken criminal justice system.
Additionally, the new law will establish a process for people with certain cannabis convictions to have their criminal records cleared, retroactively and for future convictions.
The decriminalization bill was approved by the state legislature earlier this year. It will take effect 30 days after Gov. Cuomo signed it into law.
New York’s decriminalization law follows a recent wave of legislation either decriminalizing or legalizing the use of cannabis at state level. Just earlier this month, Hawaii decriminalized the possession of weed in personal amounts. Hawaii’s new law, however, will take effect in January 2020.
Why stop at decriminalization?
Cannabis advocates who are pushing for greater liberalization embraced New York’s move. However, they are urging lawmakers to go further, with some even saying that decriminalizing cannabis would still result in many negative consequences.
Erin George, of Citizen Action of New York, contended that the police have historically found a way to go around cannabis decriminalization.
The plan to fully legalize cannabis in New York faced a major hurdle earlier this year when Gov. Cuomo announced that he was ditching the plan from the state’s upcoming budget. He pointed out that state lawmakers needed more time to come to an agreement.