Albany expunges and decriminalizes weed

Stephon Johnson | 9/5/2019, 11:47 a.m.
Many New York residents breathed a sigh of relief at the end of August.

Many New York residents breathed a sigh of relief at the end of August.

Last week, a new law expunging low-level marijuana offenses from New Yorkers’ records went into effect offering a path for thousands to access better jobs and housing. The expunging of these offenses could affect over 900,000 New Yorkers.

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this legislation would help all of New Yorkers, but in particular Black and Brown New Yorkers.

“For too long communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana and have suffered the life-long consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction,” stated Cuomo. “Today is the start of a new chapter in the criminal justice system. By providing individuals a path to have their records expunged, including those who have been unjustly impacted based on their race or ethnicity, and reducing the penalty for unlawful possession of marijuana to a fine, we are giving many New Yorkers the opportunity to live better and more productive, successful and healthier lives.”

Cuomo signed the legislation in late July, but some feel that the state government needs to push further with its marijuana policy.

“The reality is that while marijuana has been effectively ‘legal’ for white New Yorkers for decades, Black and Latinx people continue to be arrested and incarcerated for marijuana offenses at vastly disproportionate rates—despite research showing that consumption and sale of marijuana is the same regardless of race,” said Zakiyah Ansari, of Alliance for Quality Education, to the AmNews.

Under the new law, instead of an arrest, possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana carries at $50 fine and 2 ounces a $200 fine. Up to 8 ounces warrants a fine of $1,000, a misdemeanor and a year in jail. Between 8 ounces and a pound would net a $5,000 fine, a felony charge and four years in jail.

Black and Latinx New Yorkers are more likely to be accosted or arrested by cops for marijuana possession. According to a study from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, through Nov. 23 of 2018, 89 percent of all New Yorkers arrested for smoking marijuana were either Black or Latinx. Only seven percent were white. A report from Start SMART New York showed that, based on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Services from 2010 to 2018, 81 percent of people arrested for low-level marijuana possession in the city of Rochester were Black despite comparable numbers of Black and white residents living in the city and government reports showing that white people and Black people use marijuana at similar rates.

A recent report by the news site The City showed that Staten Island’s 120th Precinct (the precinct that covers the street where Eric Garner was killed) has one of the highest number of arrests for marijuana possession in New York City this year. Through June 2019, the precinct recorded 35 marijuana arrests.

Despite all of this, an organization led by two formerly incarcerated individuals praised the expunging of records and Gov. Cuomo for helping shepherd it through.