New York Decriminalizes Marijuana
During his campaign, Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to legalize the drug. Unfortunately, his bill did not garner enough support, stopping that promise in its tracks.
However, this did not deter Cuomo from pushing for some marijuana reform in New York. Unlike full legalization, decriminalization was a middle-of-the-road compromise that sat better with lawmakers who opposed Cuomo’s legalization efforts.
Despite progress in many states, a lot of legislators sit on the fence as to whether they want to take the plunge for full legalization. At least with decriminalization, small-time offences will no longer waste time and money on law enforcement and court proceedings.
Furthermore, decriminalization in New York will help address the disproportionate targeting of minorities – a universal side effect.
Ultimately, decriminalization is not the best outcome for cannabis advocates, but it certainly improves upon the old practices.
New York Decriminalizes Up to Two Ounces of Marijuana
Decriminalization limits vary from state to state. In New York’s case, the limit is on the higher side. According to The Wall Street Journal, Governor Cuomo set the fines incrementally, with one ounce (30 grams) resulting in a fine of $50, while two ounces (60 grams) will cost violators $200.
Under the previous law, possessing 25 grams or more was considered a criminal offense, leading to potential jail time and crippling criminal records.
One thing Cuomo laments is his now defunct (or at least delayed) plan for tax revenue from legal cannabis sales. Reuters explains:
“[Cuomo] argued that revenue from taxing the drug could help address a number of needs, including New York City’s troubled subway system, which is desperately in need of major repairs and upgrades. A state report at the time estimated the legal market for marijuana at between $1.7 billion and $3.5 billion annually.
In all fairness, the fines will provide a little extra money, but they are a drop in the bucket compared to the potential of legalized cannabis.
A Slight Boon for Minorities
The issue of disproportionate marijuana arrests against minorities is hardly news anymore. It was a huge talking point in Illinois, who recently legalized marijuana. We may be aware of the discrepancy, but law enforcement’s practices and arrest numbers – at least in New York – are truly shocking.
According to The Wall Street Journal:
“New York Police Department officers under the now-defunct “stop and frisk” program used the public-view provision to justify arrests that disproportionately fell on black and Latino residents, drug reform advocates say. According to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, 86% of people arrested on the lowest-level marijuana charge in 2017 were black or Hispanic, while 9% were white. The same activity would become a noncriminal violation, like a traffic ticket.”
However, the news is not totally positive. Decriminalization might mean more leniency in terms of penalties, but marijuana possession is still illegal. It can therefore still have consequences for some individuals.
Legal Aid Society staff attorney Emma Goodman warns that certain people:
“…continue to face parole and probation violations, continue to live in fear of immigration detention and deportation, and continue to be at risk of being separated from their family by an adult or child protective agency.”
Ultimately, decriminalization will be most helpful to people without prior records. Those under probation or parole, for instance, will be no better off when the new law takes effect in 30 days.
WeedAdvisor’s Preference for Legalization
Our advocacy for legalization goes beyond business expansion. We want to see as many people benefit from cannabis reform as possible. Decriminalization – although a step in the right direction – is, at best, a Band-Aid solution to free up judicial resources. It does not help make society safer or better, nor will it provide increased funding for infrastructure and other needs.
Should New York or other states decided to take marijuana reform to the next level, WeedAdvisor anticipates establishing relationships with our counterparts south of the border.