New Yorkers can now possess small amounts of marijuana without facing a criminal charge as a new law decriminalizing marijuana in New York went into effect at the end of August 2019.
The new law allows state residents to possess up to two ounces of marijuana.
The decision, which was signed into law earlier this summer by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, came after the state Legislature failed earlier in the year to approve legalization of recreational marijuana. But by decriminalizing marijuana in New York, many feel lawmakers have taken a big step forward.
Expunging Criminal Records
Under the new law, police officers would not make arrests on those possessing less than two ounces. However, they could issue a citation which might lead to getting fined. The maximum fines are $50 for possessing less than one ounce of cannabis and $200 for possessing between one and two ounces.
Another key factor is that the law has a component of social justice. Records of about 160,000 people arrested for misdemeanor marijuana-related charges will have their New York arrest records expunged, according to the New York Times.
The Times reported that Cuomo, in a statement, said that “for too long communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana and have suffered the lifelong consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction.”
Expunging the records means that they won’t come up in most background checks. However, New York officials said it might take a year to come up with a system to expunge the records.
Faced with a similar issue in California, computer experts donated their time to help expunge criminal records in San Francisco.
Presidential Candidates and Decriminalization
The New York law parallels the thinking of some of the 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidates. Many have come out in favor of decriminalization. Candidate Kamala Harris, a senator from California, has already sponsored legislation to decriminalize marijuana nationally.
Candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have come out in favor of legalization at the federal level, such as what has been done in Canada. Former Vice President Joe Biden has said he supports decriminalization.
Despite all the political support, some are concerned that decriminalizing marijuana in New York didn’t go far enough. According to Newsweek, police can still detain people if they detect the aroma of marijuana – something that has led to people being harassed when they weren’t using marijuana.
Also, there are concerns that while it may not carry a criminal conviction, marijuana possession could still damage a person’s life with fines and a court record.