New York State Votes To Decriminalize Marijuana, Expunge Crime Records

It's being called a "momentous first step."

New York state stopped short of fully legalizing marijuana this week, but it did vote to decriminalize the drug and expunge low-level marijuana-related crime records throughout the state.

"The Senate today passed legislation that will address the racial disparities that are present in New York's antiquated marijuana drug laws," the state government website said in a press release. "New York's existing marijuana laws disproportionately affect the African American and Latinx communities. This monumental legislation will decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and establish procedures for record expungements for both past and future convictions."

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The new legislation will reduce the penalty of marijuana possession as a violation instead of a crime for any amount up to two ounces. That means instead of a criminal record, violators will simply have to pay a fine if they are caught with marijuana. Perhaps more importantly for civil rights activists across the state, it will set up a program to automatically expunge records retroactively and in the future for anyone who establishes a criminal record for marijuana possession.

Some activists and legislators across the state were disappointed the most recent legislative session didn't produce a full-scale legalization that included the establishment of a cannabis industry like the ones in Colorado, Washington, California or Alaska. But many are just relieved that the state will begin rolling back what was considered draconian punishments for low-level drug offenses. 

"Communities of color have borne the brunt of New York State's marijuana drug laws. Our justice system directly reflects who we are as a society and that is why the Senate Majority is taking action to fix this broken system," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. "This legislation is marking a momentous first step in addressing the racial disparities caused by the war on drugs. The Senate Majority continues to move forward on full legalization and I thank Senator Jamaal Bailey for his leadership on this issue."

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