New York Decriminalization Just Cleared Thousands of Minor Cannabis Convictions
New Yorkers from Albany to Astoria will now be able to carry up to two ounces of weed without fearing criminal charges.
Published on August 29, 2019

A statewide cannabis decriminalization law signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo went into effect this week, changing the penalties for possession and public consumption of cannabis from criminal charges to civil infractions.

According to concurrent reports from Gothamist and local news channel CBS2, the new law will allow New Yorkers across the Empire State to carry or consume up to two ounces of weed without facing misdemeanor charges. Also, all existing misdemeanor possession and consumption convictions have been automatically expunged from state records, giving more than 25,000 New Yorkers a clean slate.

“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.” 

But even with misdemeanor crimes reduced to civil offenses, cannabis law reform advocates are still skeptical that decriminalization truly frees Empire State cannabis users from persecution. Even without a formal criminal record, the new possession and public consumption tickets will still be visible to prospective employers and landlords, potentially continuing a stigma against pot users without the use of handcuffs.

Gallery — Photos of Cops Smoking Weed:

Additionally, a similar decriminalization law has been on the books for more than a year in New York City’s five boroughs, and yet recent citation statistics show that people of color still account for more than 90% of all pot arrests. 

"[Statewide decriminalization] doesn't deal with the ways in which housing and employment can be impacted by a marijuana arrest,” Melissa Moore, the Deputy State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance New York, told Gothamist. “It doesn't deal with the child welfare or family court implications, it doesn't deal with immigration consequences for people." 

Earlier this year, New York legislators pushed for full-scale adult-use cannabis legalization, but came up short in their initial attempts.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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