The law decriminalizing marijuana went into effect Wednesday in New York state. Tribune News Service

What New York’s new pot law changes

New York’s “long overdue” legislation decriminalizing marijuana possession took effect Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

“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,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Today is the start of a new chapter in the criminal justice system.”

Passed by the legislature in June, the law expunges many past marijuana possession convictions and reduces the penalty for the possession of small amounts of the drug, but it falls short of the legalization bill advocates were pushing for.

“It does do two good things,” said Emma Goodman, a staff attorney in Legal Aid Society’s special litigation unit, who worked with legislators on the push to legalize recreational marijuana.

“It makes something that was a misdemeanor now a violation, and it automatically expunges old misdemeanor convictions,” she said. “That’s more than a lot of states have done. The problem is that it’s just getting rid of one very small amount of low-level offenses and it’s not actually legalizing marijuana … violations are still arrestable offenses in New York.”

The fact that most past convictions for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana will be automatically expunged is something Goodman and others had been fighting for.

“The automatic nature of (the legislation) is significant and does mean a lot more people are going to access the benefits of it,” she said.

The historically disproportionate arrests of people of color on possession charges necessitated the bill, its sponsor, Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx) said after it passed in June.

“The misdemeanor charge for public view of marijuana possession gives those people convicted a criminal record that will follow them throughout their lives, potentially limiting their access to housing, access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment, all leading to a potential inability to provide for their families,” he said in a statement.

“While this legislation falls short of the goal of legalization of adult-use cannabis, the ability to create 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.”

Here’s a breakdown of what the law does:

— Possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is considered a violation, not a crime. As Goodman explained, the violation is still an arrestable offense, but it won’t result in a prison term or criminal record.

— The penalty for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is lowered from $100 to $50 and won’t increase because of an individual’s criminal history. The penalty for possession of between one and two ounces is $200, regardless of criminal history.

— Most past convictions for marijuana possession of 25 grams or less will automatically be expunged.

— Marijuana is added to the definition of smoking in the Public Health Law, so smoking marijuana is prohibited anywhere smoking tobacco is prohibited.

Despite these changes, advocates said they will continue to fight for legalization and reinvestment in the communities that have been impacted by the criminalization of pot.

The sponsors of the marijuana legalization bill, Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), said they are committed to reviving it in the next legislative session.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

Recommended for you

(4) comments

Mud Duck

What tax money? Ask Canada how that worked out for them; when the government weed was quickly bought up, it was back to the black market. This only helps those who use this junk.


Go drink a healthy bottle of liquor. Every homeless person and date rapist loves alcohol. The difference between pot and alcohol is that alcohol causes colon cancer and can kill you if you drink too much. We can't afford your paranoid ignorance any more.

Mud Duck

Must be overrun with homeless people and rapists with all the breweries around here.

A Dodger

Sill an arrestable offense. Which means that they will still confiscate your stash. This is one of the primary reasons Cuomo ran during his reelection bid was finally legalizing recreational marijuana in this state. People won't forget. The tax income alone from marijuana would greatly speed up highway improvements throughout the state as well as aid in economic development . Instead, the underground will profit the most and god knows where the money is going and law enforcement will continue picking up the scraps during traffic stops.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.