NY lawmakers set sights on marijuana decriminalization

June 20, 2019 08:23 AM

NEW YORK (WHEC) -- New York lawmakers say they don't have the votes to legalize recreational marijuana this session.

As the legislature approaches the final hour, some lawmakers are pushing for decriminalization since legalization is happening right now. 

Gov. Cuomo sent out a statement to lawmakers urging action on a bill that would decriminalize marijuana in New York state saying in part, "Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long and it has to end. I first proposed this decriminalization measure in 2013, and again in this year's budget. The time to act is now." 

Mary Kruger, executive director of ROC NORML, says marijuana in New York has been decriminalized since 1977, but communities of color continue to be impacted by disproportionate arrests for low-level marijuana offenses. 

"Decriminalizing is nothing progressive. North Dakota just did it last month," Kruger said. "Marijuana has been used as a gateway into the criminal justice system specifically for young black men."

Kruger and several other advocacy groups met with Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley to discuss some of the disproportionate data that shows for every white person arrested for low-level marijuana possession in Monroe County, four black people are arrested for the same charge.

"I've been looking at the disproportionate effects that small low-level marijuana has on minorities in our community," Doorley said. "Going forward since we were adjourning them in contemplation of dismissal anyway I decided to join many other district attorneys across the state and just stop prosecuting low levels."

People who are caught with less than two ounces of marijuana in Monroe County will not be prosecuted.

If approved, the state's decriminalization bill would allow expungement of weed crimes from records and change the definition of smoking in the state. Kruger says the bill is smoke in mirrors compared to the MRTA, which would legalize recreational marijuana and send tax revenue from marijuana sales back to communities hardest hit by the war on drugs. Kruger says this decriminalization bill lacks social justice reform.

"This decriminalization doesn't even address or touch on all the collateral consequences that come along with a misdemeanor prosecution," Kruger said.

The legislative session ends Wednesday at midnight, but Cuomo says he'd be willing to issue a "message of necessity" to get the decriminalization bill passed.

This would mean lawmakers could bypass the three-day comment period required by law to rush to a vote on it.


Kaci Jones

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