New York Becomes the 15th State to Decriminalize Marijuana

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Jul 30, 2019

New York has become the 15th state to decriminalize recreational marijuana use. The legislation that governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed on Monday (July 29) is designed to reduce the penalty for possession from jail time to a fine. It also intends to create a pathway to clear the records of people with possession convictions. The bill will take effect 30 days after becoming law, but it still doesn’t make smoking it legal.

"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 press release. "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."

With the signing of this bill, New York became the 15th state to decriminalize marijuana, but fell short of joining the 27 other state legislatures who have considered legalizing it for adults in 2019. The new law will now fine a person $50 for possessing less than an ounce and $200 for one to two ounces, Newsday reported. 

"Marijuana possession gives those convicted a criminal record that will follow them throughout their lives, potentially limiting their access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment leading to a potential inability to provide for their families,” Jamaal T. Bailey (D-N.Y.) said. “The creation of 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.”