New York Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday signed a cannabis decriminalization and expungement statute, a sort of second prize following the state’s failure to pass legalization of adult use of cannabis in June. The bill takes effect in 30 days and provides just a violation (like a traffic ticket) for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. The new law also sets up a procedure for those convicted of possession of small amounts of cannabis to seek expungement of their records. The fine for possession of less than an ounce will be $50, or $200 if you possess between one and two ounces.
Many were disappointed when the Democrat-controlled legislature failed to complete legalization with its Democrat Governor. Key legislators blamed the Governor for his apparent unwillingness to be more hands on in pressuring some Senators to support the bill. Cuomo, for his part, said that if the majority support was not there, it was not for him to push. Much of the disagreement related to how far to take embedding social justice efforts into the law and how to use tax revenues to help communities long impacted negatively by the war on drugs. Many hope there will be an opportunity to revisit the issue when the legislature next convenes in January.
As the fourth largest state with 19 million people, New York legalizing adult use would be a major step for the industry. New Jersey also failed to pass adult use legislation this year and intends to put it up for a voter referendum in 2020. New York law does not permit referendums short of a Constitutional convention. Empire State voters decide on whether to hold a convention every 20 years, and voted down the effort in 2017. The industry was pleased when Illinois, the sixth largest US state with almost 13 million people, passed adult use legalization last month, the 11th state to fully legalize cannabis.