By GREGORY ZELLER //
Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
It’s not that cavalier about it, but new legislation signed July 29 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo significantly decriminalizes marijuana use in New York State – a victory not only for the herbal set at large, but for African American and Latino communities in particular.
Noting “communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long,” Cuomo signed S.6579A/A.8420, companion New York State Senate and Assembly bills that reduce Unlawful Possession of Marijuana charges to mere violations, punishable by monetary fines – $200 for first-degree possession, $50 for second-degree (weight restrictions apply).
The new law also creates a process for persons convicted of certain marijuana-related offenses to have their records expunged.
While maintaining the Empire State’s momentum toward the full-on legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana, the throttled-back pot laws will directly address “racial and ethnic disparities,” according to the governor’s office – a serious flaw that lawmakers blame on a “broken” system.
“For too long, communities of color have been disproportionately targeted and negatively impacted” by marijuana-possession laws, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said in a statement. “Decriminalizing marijuana is an essential part of reforming our state’s broken justice system.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) decried “decades of injustice caused by the state’s current drug laws.”
“This new law will go a long way toward helping our communities, and especially people of color,” the speaker said. “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.”
Cuomo said the reduction of “draconian penalties” and that stigma-reducing amendment – which helps the marijuana-convicted expunge their public record “retroactively and for future convictions,” according to the governor’s office – were both important steps in the overall correction of a flawed justice system.
“By providing individuals who have suffered the consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction with a path to have their records expunged … we are taking a critical step forward in addressing a broken and discriminatory criminal-justice process,” the governor added.