New York Votes To Decriminalize And Expunge
New York cannabis laws plan to include tossing the records of low-level cannabis ‘criminals.’
UPDATED: The Bill Passed, and the below laws have officially taken effect.
The New York State legislature calls it “Plan B.” It follows last month’s disappointing failure to legalize recreational use under New York cannabis laws. What it means is that the law will treat amounts of up to 2 ounces of cannabis as a violation, not a misdemeanor.
The bill will pass when NY Governor Andrew Cuomo signs it. Cuomo spokesman Jason Conwall writes in an email that “the bill is under review.”
When it passes, the punishment for second-degree cannabis possession will be a fine of maximum $50.
“The drug laws that are currently on the books have devastated our communities by disproportionately targeting people of color.” Says Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. Heastie expands to note that living with a criminal record stops people from accessing public housing, and in many cases, even getting a job.
The bill slips ahead of the already famous Illinois decriminalization; which will alter or expunge the criminal records of 770,000 people.
Even Bigger than Illinois
This is even bigger. Mary Kruger is director of Roc NORML, a cannabis advocacy group. Kruger is one of the authors of a report on the 800,000 New Yorkers that have been arrested for cannabis possession under past New York cannabis laws.
However, that number only represents the last 20 years. Even more people will see their lives changed following the state’s decriminalization.
How Will The New York Cannabis Law Work Now?
“The way we interpret the bill thus far is that it will be automatically done by the state,” Kruger says of the record erasure. Note that the bill will only cover cannabis convictions. So, if someone has non-cannabis related charges, they’ll still stand.
It also raises the amount people are able to posses before misdemeanor charges to two ounces. That means, less than two ounces of cannabis, and the charge will only be a “violation.”
A violation is not a crime. Before Governor Cuomo signs the bill, however, if you openly have (or consume) cannabis in public, police could still charge you with a misdemeanor.
Certain municipalities in New York, like Monroe County, do not prosecute marijuana violations. However, know this: a violation is still considered an arrest-able offense.
You Could Still Face Arrest
Mary Kruger points out that along with that ticket of up to $50, you could still face arrest. “Folks are still able to be arrested depending on law enforcement’s discretion,” she says.
Any arrest can mean up to 24 hours in custody, even without a charge. Still, less than two ounces of cannabis isn’t terribly hard to keep to. And, it means you’re at the same ticket level as jaywalking.
Rightfully so, any arrest is too many for people like Kruger, who want legal cannabis in one of the US’s most populous states.
Still, Congratulations are in Order
Two ounces is a lot of cannabis to carry before reaching misdemeanor status. Also, it is still amazing that the New York Legislature is expanding decriminalization. Of course, there’s ultimately no time like the present for cannabis reform; and more specifically, for cannabis legalization.
In the meantime, however, this is an important step towards cannabis legalization. The expungement of close to a million criminal records, an astonishing 80% of which are people of color, is truly amazing. So, congratulations are in order for the new New York cannabis laws!