As plans to legalize marijuana fully appear to have hit a dead end in the New York State legislature, the lawmakers have agreed to expand the decriminalization of the drug in addition to providing for the automatic expungement of low-level cannabis possession convictions across the state.
On Thursday, Senators agreed to treat the possession of up to two ounces of cannabis as an infraction punishable by a $50 fine instead of regarding it as a crime. This measure marks a huge change in a state where thousands of residents have been caught on the wrong side of the law and been incarcerated.
The agreement on the expungement measure comes as a compromise deal after it became apparent that there wouldn’t be enough support to pass a full legalization measure. While legalization has failed, cannabis industry advocates still regard this approved measure as a step forward for the industry.
The bill passed with a 39-23 vote in the Senate as the legislative session dragged beyond its expected end on Wednesday.
Gov. Cuomo, who a couple of years ago called marijuana a “getaway drug” was all praises for the decriminalization measure. He said the measure will give relief to the thousands snared by the state’s criminal justice system because of marijuana.
This isn’t the first time that the State of New York is decriminalizing marijuana possession. In 1977, the state decriminalized the possession of a maximum of 25 grams. The new bill more than doubles that possession limit.
It should be noted that under the new law, the possession of more than 2 ounces of marijuana is still a crime and nothing has changed regarding smoking cannabis in public. It is still forbidden.
All the same, this limited measure is still a victory because New York has been notorious for its restrictive marijuana laws. For example, under the medical marijuana program which was legalized in 2014, smoking medical marijuana isn’t allowed.
Many Senators who spoke during the hearing on the measure were disappointed that the bill didn’t seek to fully legalize marijuana. They cited the fact that medical marijuana has been legal for years as proof that cannabis has some value, so they couldn’t understand why it still remained illegal in the state.
The legislators are also debating a proposal tabled by State Senator Diane Savino to expand the medical cannabis program from its “current overly restrictive design” to something more accommodative.
Republicans, who are now the minority in both legislative chambers in New York State, made futile attempts to block the decriminalization measure, calling it “harmful to people.” It isn’t yet clear how industry players like Chemistree Technology Inc. (CSE: CHM) (OTCQB: CHMJF) and Canopy Rivers Inc. (TSX.V: RIV) (OTC: CNPOF) will react to the current cannabis news coming out of Albany.
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