New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Monday further decriminalizing marijuana use in the state.
The legislation reduces the penalty for illegal possession of marijuana to a violation punishable by a fine, and allows those with certain marijuana convictions to have their records expunged, according to a news release from the governor’s office. The bill, which will take effect 30 days after becoming law, comes as Democrats are pushing harder to decriminalize marijuana across the nation.
“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, a Democrat, said.
“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,” Cuomo continued, “we are taking a critical step forward in addressing a broken and discriminatory criminal justice process.”
Democrats say the measure will correct decades of enforcement that targeted people of color, and Cuomo’s office says the legislation aims to make marijuana enforcement “fairer and more equitable.”
The legislation removes criminal penalties for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. It reduces the penalty for the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana to a $50 fine, regardless of criminal history, and a maximum of a $200 fine for the possession of between 1 and 2 ounces.
Efforts to decriminalize marijuana are underway in Congress.
California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, a 2020 presidential contender, introduced legislation last week decriminalizing marijuana on the federal level. Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
Harris and Nadler both said people of color were more likely to be convicted of or arrested for marijuana-related crimes.
The New York state legislature passed its bill in June after a failed effort at marijuana legalization in the state. State leaders failed to reach a consensus on key details in the plan to legalize recreational marijuana.
Cuomo in December announced his support for legalizing marijuana in his state, after a primary challenge on his left from activist and actress Cynthia Nixon, who supported a number of progressive priorities, including marijuana legalization.
In January 2018, months before Nixon announced her candidacy, Cuomo directed the state’s health department to conduct a study of a regulated marijuana program in New York to determine the potential health, economic and criminal justice impacts on the state, according to the governor’s website.
The report found the regulation of marijuana would have public health benefits with government oversight of production and distribution, would ensure quality control and consumer protection and would reduce racial disparities in criminalization and incarceration rates, the website stated.
The governor’s position on the issue evolved since 2012, when he proposed the state move to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana that are in public view. He said the aim was to avoid unnecessary misdemeanor charges against thousands of New Yorkers.