Now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers have conceded defeat in their effort to legalize adult recreational marijuana, they have agreed to further decriminalize the drug.
The new law treats possession of up to two ounces of cannabis as a violation, with a fine of up to $200, and past records of those arrested for having two ounces or less of marijuana will be expunged.
In the final hours of the session, agreements on expanding the state’s limited medical marijuana program appeared unlikely.
Cuomo, speaking on Albany public radio station WAMC, said it was a “mistake” not to legalize cannabis and he said New York is losing revenues to other states where the drug is legal.
However, he said decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug is a “major” accomplishment and the “best that could be done” in the current session.
“It makes the situation much, much better, especially for the black and brown community that has paid such a high price,” Cuomo said, “but politically, the support was not there to pass legalization.”
Cuomo said Democrats in the state Senate did have the votes to pass legalization, a fact confirmed by the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan).
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie agreed that decriminalization is a step in the right direction.
“It will help undo some of the longtime injustices that our communities have had, particularly communities of color, that have borne the brunt of the criminal laws on marijuana,” Heastie said.
He said in politics, sometimes you don’t get everything you want on the first try.
“It’s an improvement on the way of trying to get where we would hope to be,” Heastie said, “which is, at some point, legalization and full decriminalization.”
Criminal justice advocates are not satisfied.
The Drug Policy Alliance, which supports the legalization of marijuana, called it a “failure of leadership” and said it will not end what they call the “marijuana arrest crusade” that disproportionately affects black and Latinx communities.
They said it also continues to give police too much discretion who they arrest and under what circumstances.