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Queens Chronicle

Pot in NY is further decriminalized

Legalization had failed to pass in this year’s legislative session

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:19 pm, Thu Aug 8, 2019.

The push to legalize recreational marijuana in New York failed in this year’s legislative session. Still, state law on pot just changed in a major way.

Gov. Cuomo on Monday signed a bill further decriminalizing the drug. It weakens the penalty for unlawful possession of marijuana to a violation worth just a fine and gets rid of criminal penalties for possessing any amount of the drug below two ounces.

The new law also establishes a process for people with certain pot convictions to get their records expunged, both retroactively and in the future.

“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,” Cuomo said in a statement. “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.”

Cuomo had said in his State of the State address earlier this year that he intended to get marijuana legalized, a reform made possible by Democrats in last year’s elections winning complete control of the state government. But the idea ultimately died in the Senate, where not enough legislators from moderate districts signed on.

“This law is an important step in righting decades of injustice caused by the state’s current drug laws,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said in his own statement. “Decriminalizing marijuana and expunging records for those with low level offenses will go a long way towards helping our communities, and especially people of color, who have been devastated by them. By removing the barriers and stigma that come with these records, we clear the path for many New Yorkers to find a job, housing and go on to live successful and productive lives.”

Becoming the ninth one to do so, the Empire State decriminalized marijuana in 1977. Gov. Hugh Carey signed a bill making possessing up to 25 grams of the drug a violation with an up-to-$100 fine.

Recreational pot is legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, the U.S. territory of Guam, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, the state of Washington and the District of Columbia.

Democrats in New York have said they’re optimistic about it being legalized in the state next year.

“Marijuana possession gives those convicted a criminal record that will follow them throughout their lives, potentially limiting their access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment leading to a potential inability to provide for their families,” state Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx, Westchester) said. “The creation of a mechanism for expungement, both retroactively and forward-looking, is a step in the right direction in finally ending the heavy-handed war on drugs that has decimated communities of color.”

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