Working past the scheduled close of the 2019 legislative session, the New York State Senate approved legislation Thursday night to expand the state’s cannabis decriminalization language and automatically expunge low-level cannabis convictions. The bill, which is supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), was approved next by the Assembly early Friday morning before lawmakers finally adjourned for the rest of the year, according to a PIX11 News report.
Lawmakers had also considered an adult-use legalization bill but failed to come to an agreement in time, so the final push for cannabis reform resulted in just an expansion of the state’s existing decriminalization language.
Under current New York law, carrying up to 25 grams of cannabis is considered unlawful possession — a violation resulting in a $100 ticket for the first offense, rising to a maximum fine of $250 for repeat offenses with up to 15 days in jail. The new language reduces the penalty to just a $50 fine for less than an ounce or a $200 fine for one to two ounces; the new bill will also allow for the expungement of minor cannabis convictions.
Pro-reform lawmakers were disappointed that the legalization bill failed but said they will take up the issue again next year, and that the decriminalization expansions were a stepping stone toward reaching that eventual goal.
“We will get there. This is one step on the path. We will get there.” — Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), in a statement
New York’s original decriminalization bill was established in 1977. Notably, while the old language had decriminalized private possession, the public possession of even small amounts of cannabis was still considered a misdemeanor and an arrestable offense.