The state of New York has decriminalized recreational cannabis use.
Signed into law on Monday by governor Andrew Cuomo, the new measure will make possession of small amounts of the drug punishable by fines rather than jail time.
The decision falls short of Cuomo’s goal of legalizing marijuana in the state, but does include a mechanism for the clearing the criminal records of those already convicted of possessing minor amounts of the substance.
“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.”
These cannabis reparations take a leaf from Illinois’ recent marijuana bill, which offered relief to the 770,000 state residents with a criminal record for cannabis offenses. But where that bill made Illinois the 11th US state to open up a recreational market, the New York measures still restrict residents to black market cannabis.
A state report commissioned by Governor Cuomo in January 2018 found that marijuana sales could generate between $1.7 and $3.5 billion in annual revenue.
Despite only adopting a pro-cannabis stance recently – labelling the substance a “gateway drug” in 2017 – Cuomo has made multiple moves to prepare New York for a regulated market, including forming a working group to draft a bill for cannabis legalization and commissioning the state’s Department of Health to investigate the benefits it could bring.
Talks to legalize by the end of the year collapsed back in June over disagreement on how to regulate such an industry. However, recent polling still suggests that the move would be in accordance with public approval, as 55 percent of voters supported legalization.
But for the foreseeable future, New Yorkers will have to be content with reduced punishments for possession.
Under the new law, the penalty will be $50 for possessing less than an ounce of cannabis or a maximum of $200 for 1 to 2 ounces.
The law should come into effect within 30 days.