New York failed to legalize recreational cannabis last week, but state lawmakers did manage to pass a marijuana reform that makes New York's drug policy a little more progressive.
For months, New York legislators had been moving back and forth while trying to come to an agreement on legalizing recreational cannabis in the state. While a deal was not reached before the legislative session ended last week changes are still expected to be coming to New York's marijuana policies.
A new cannabis decriminalization bill has been passed by both the state Assembly and Senate and is now awaiting approval by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), who is expected to sign the bill in the coming days. Under the new legislation, possession of less than one ounce of cannabis will be punishable with a fine of up to $50 instead of jail time. Possession of between one and two ounces will be punishable with a fine of up to $200. Anyone exceeding two ounces, however, could still face time behind bars.
The new bill is an update of New York's 1977 cannabis decriminalization measure. Under the old bill, possession of small amounts of marijuana could still be punishable with jail time if the offender had previous criminal convictions, or if their cannabis was in public view. Under the 'public view' stipulation, something as simple as emptying your bag or pockets when asked by police could lead to jail time if what was otherwise a ticketable amount of cannabis was found. This loophole was a particular area of concern for cannabis advocates and will be closed under the new bill.
While the new bill does not allow people to legally buy, sell and consume cannabis, it does include one key aspect from New York's failed legalization bill. A process will be established to allow people to have past cannabis convictions wiped from their criminal records. An estimated 600,000 New Yorkers have small cannabis convictions on their records, which they will soon be able to get expunged.
The new bill doesn't entirely make up for New York's failure to legalize recreational cannabis this year, but it's a good step in the right direction nonetheless.