New York Sen. Introduces Two Bills Aimed at Low-Level Pot Possession Reform

Last year New York State became the 23rd state to pass medical marijuana laws and this year even more progress could be made in the marijuana prohibition fight if two bills by Sen. Daniel Squadron (D) are passed in the state.

The bills, S.137 and S.172, are not as revolutionary as the act proposed by Sen. Liz Krueger (D) that would legalize pot in the state for recreational purposes but they would likely keep what are now considered low-level offenders out of jail entirely.

S.137 would decriminalize possession of “personal amounts” of marijuana, defined in the bill as “25 grams or less,” which is roughly one ounce. It would also close the so-called “sharing loophole” that allows police to arrest and charge someone for dealing if they are caught sharing, or “passing a joint,” according to a representative from Squadron’s office. If passed and enacted, a person could only be arrested for dealing if they were compensated for providing the drug.

The bill also gives judges flexibility when hearing marijuana cases. When an individual is arrested and charged with possession they face a host of collateral consequences in addition to fines and possible jail time. If the offender is a college student they could lose their financial aid, an immigrant could be deported and a public housing resident could be evicted from their home. Squadron’s bill allows the judge to allow for an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal in these cases.

A 2008 report from the New York Civil Liberties Union showed that 97 percent of pot arrests in New York are for simple possession. The New York City Police Department is oft criticized for their “stop and frisk” procedures that net pot arrests. Stop and frisk allows an officer to approach an individual and force them to remove the items from their pockets. If marijuana is removed the person can be charged with “in plain view” possession.

Additionally S.137 creates a vacating process that would help people convicted of in plain view charges. Individuals would have the option to have those convictions stricken from their record. The bill would also eliminate the three-year waiting period for the sealing of marijuana related criminal records.

Squadron’s other marijuana-related bill, S.172, would reduce the penalty for in plain (or public) view from a misdemeanor to a violation. If passed and signed into law, the bill would allow that type of possession, often the result of stop and frisk, to result in an appearance ticket rather than an arrest. Under the law, however, public burning of marijuana would remain a Class B misdemeanor offense.

Both bills have been moved to the Senate Codes Committee. Once moved from that committee, which is chaired by Republican Sen. Michael Nozzolio, they could be moved to the floor for a vote. They would need to be supported with a “same-as” proposal by an Assembly member in order to be moved to and voted on in that house.

Photo Credit: Circuito Fora do Eixo

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