A cannabis decriminalization bill pass by both chambers of the New York Legislature last month and received approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) this morning. So what does the Empire State's new cannabis policy mean?
Under the new legislation, possession of less than one ounce of cannabis will be punishable by a $50 fine. Being caught with between one and two ounces will be punishable with a maximum fine of $200.
The bill will also see a process established for individuals to have low-level cannabis convictions wiped from their criminal records. This was a key piece of drug policy reform that lawmakers pushed to have added to the decriminalization bill after Cuomo failed to broker a deal to legalize recreational cannabis earlier this year.
Despite that setback, Governor Cuomo is hailing the new law as a major win for social justice.
"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," he said in a statement following the signing of the bill. "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."
The new law is essentially an update to a New York cannabis decriminalization bill that was implemented back in 1977. Under the old legislation, possession of small amounts of cannabis was technically decriminalized. However you could still face jail time if your cannabis was deemed to be in public view. That stipulation received massive backlash over the years as it was repeatedly abused by law enforcers. Basically, if a cop in New York suspected you of possessing any cannabis, they could stop you on the street and ask you to turn out your pockets. If you followed that order, you would be guilty of exposing cannabis to public view, even if you only had a single joint on you.
This significant loophole has been closed by the new legislation.
July has proven to be a big month for cannabis decriminalization in the US. Early in the month, New Mexico's decriminalization of cannabis went in to effect and around a week later Hawaii passed a decriminalization bill that will take effect next January.