New York Legislature Passes Decriminalization Bill

A bill to decriminalize cannabis possession in the state of New York has passed the full legislature and is awaiting a signature from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The bill, S06579A, passed with a 39-23 vote after a final reading in the Senate on Thursday, June 20.

The Assembly voted 94-44 to approve the bill on Friday, June 21.

“While this legislation falls short of the goal of legalization of adult-use cannabis,” says the bill’s sponsor, Senator Jamal Bailey. “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.”

The bill reduces the penalty for possession of small amounts of cannabis from unlawful possession to a citable offense.

Under the bill, possession of up to one ounce of cannabis would be punishable by a $50 fine, and $200 for up to two ounces, regardless of criminal history.

The bill would remove criminal penalties for possessions of amounts under two ounces and add marijuana to the Public Health Law definition of smoking, prohibiting its use in any location where tobacco smoking is banned.

In addition to decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis, S06579A also provides automatic record expungement for past and future convictions.

“The drug laws that are currently on the books have devastated our communities by disproportionately targeting people of color, forcing them to live with a criminal record that makes it harder to get a job or find housing,” says Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “Decriminalizing marijuana, paired with expunging records for these low-level offenses, will help undo some of these decade-long injustices, and allow for people to be productive and successful.”

According to research from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, African-Americans are eight times more likely, and Latino people are five times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana charge in New York City.

The bill will go into effect thirty days after it is signed into law.