Cuomo signs bill decriminalizing ‘public’ use and possession of marijuana

New York

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

People caught with up to two ounces of marijuana in New York will no longer be charged with a crime when a new law goes into effect next month.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill Monday that further decriminalizes marijuana law in New York by removing exceptions for public possession and use.

The measure also gives some people convicted of marijuana possession a chance to have their criminal records wiped clean.

In a statement, Cuomo said New York’s existing laws “disproportionately affect” black and Latino communities.

“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,” the governor said.

Possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized in New York in 1977. But that law only applied to home use. The bill signed by Cuomo expands the civil penalties by amending the definition of smoking under public health laws to include the smoking of marijuana.

As of 2012, according to the bill, more than 44,600 people in New York had been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor crime for smoking or possessing marijuana “in public view.” In New York City, 88 percent of them were black or Latino.

“In other words,” the law says, “in New York, possessing small amounts of marijuana is largely decriminalized for people who are white, and vastly more likely to be criminalized for people who are black or Latino.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the new measures are necessary to reform New York’s “broken justice system.

“For too long, communities of color have been disproportionately targeted and negatively impacted,” she said.

The bill’s provisions take effect in 30 days.

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