New York Governor Signs Bill Decriminalizing Cannabis Possession

The decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis is significant progress for social justice initiatives.
New York Governor Signs Bill Decriminalizing Cannabis Possession
Image credit: Scott Heins | Stringer | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Cannabis Industry Writer and Director of Content at AxisWire
3 min read
This story originally appeared on Green Market Report

On July 29, 2019, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a measure that reduces the penalties for cannabis possession.

“While the failure to pass a comprehensive legalization bill is an unfortunate loss to the taxpayers of New York, the decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis is significant progress for social justice initiatives, an underreported aspect of the legalization movement,” said Evan Eneman, CEO of MGO|ELLO Alliance, a cannabis finance and banking firm.

Although New York decriminalized the possession of 23 grams or less of cannabis in 1977, tens of thousands of New Yorkers have still found themselves arrested and charged with possessing small amounts of cannabis. Between 2008 and 2017, approximately 360,000 people have been arrested for cannabis possession, the majority of which have been persons of color.

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice once and for all,” Cuomo said in a statement. “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.”

Though the majority of New York residents support cannabis legalization, the state legislature failed this year to pass a full-legalization bill. The primary reason for the bill’s failure was to due to disagreements over diversity requirements for licensees. To many, the recently passed decriminalization bill is seen as a stop-gap measure while the legislature works out the details of full legalization.

The new law reduces cannabis possession to a violation punishable by a fine and removes criminal penalties for cannabis possession under two ounces. The measure also creates a process for individuals charged with cannabis possession to have their records expunged, both retroactively and for future convictions.

Individuals caught possessing cannabis will be fined $50 for the first offense and fined $200 for a second offense within three years of the first violation. Those caught for a third time within three years will be subject to a $250 fine and/or 15 days in jail. The new law will go into effect on August 29, 2019.

Medical Marijuana Inc.’s (OTC: MJNA) Dr. Stuart Titus said, “New York has a history of leading the way in many legislative policies for the U.S. and we hope that this new decriminalization measure in New York will set an example for other states, and the federal government to follow.”

The illegal nature of cannabis hasn’t frightened the investors away. Eneman added, “The cannabis industry isn’t waiting for regulators to catch up, as demonstrated by the record-setting pace of venture capital investing, as detailed in the MGO | ELLO Cannabis Private Investment Review. The report shows investment exceeding $1.3 billion already through the first half of this year as compared to $1B in total in 2018. Investors have a strong appetite for cannabis and they aren’t letting roadblocks like legalization stand in their way.”

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