New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signed the bill expanding cannabis decriminalization in the state, the Albany Times Union reports. The measure also includes provisions to automatically expunge some low-level cannabis possession crimes from criminal records.
The law more than doubles the state’s previous criminal threshold for cannabis possession – from 25 grams to 57 grams – and lowers the fines attached to the violation charge. The maximum fines allowed under the new law are set at $200.
According to the bill’s message of justification, about 600,000 New Yorkers have an arrest record for low-level possession and those individuals can now petition the court to have the records for those charges destroyed.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) called the measure “an essential part of reforming [New York’s] broken justice system.”
“For too long, communities of color have been disproportionately targeted and negatively impacted,” she said to the Times Union.
Social justice advocates told the Times Union that the bill falls short – after lawmakers failed to pass a bill to tax and regulate cannabis sales in the state.
Jawanza James Williams, director of organizing at VOCAL-NY, a social justice-focused nonprofit, said many advocates viewed the bill as “an abject failure.”
“The legacy of issues that have hit black, brown and poor people as a result of marijuana prohibition is more wide ranging than any decriminalization bill could ever remotely come close to addressing.” — Williams, to the Times Union
During the signing ceremony, Cuomo said the bill ended the injustice of racial disparity of cannabis law enforcement “once and for all.”
“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,” he said.
Cuomo had pushed for a tax-and-reg system – going so far as including it in his executive budget – along with legislative leaders Stewart Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D). Many believed legalization was a slam dunk as all three branches of the state’s government are controlled by Democrats; however, lawmakers disagreed on how the revenues derived from the industry would be spent and local control, which killed the bill in the eleventh hour.