Gov. Cuomo Signs Bill to Further Decriminalize Cannabis in NY

On July 28, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made waves in the cannabis industry by signing a bill aiming to further decriminalize cannabis use statewide. It’s not legalization—but it’s a step in the right direction as supporters are advocating for the law as a vital social justice initiative. 

“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 posted to his official website

After a failed attempt at full legalization back in June, the decriminalization bill has been posed as an alternative by Democrats in the recent legislative session. The bill reduces penalties for unlawful possession to a violation punishable by fine and creates a process of record expungement for those convicted of small cannabis-related crimes. 

“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,” Cuomo expressed further.

Still, many cannabis advocates are making it known that this is only a slight progression in a much larger fight. State Senator Diane Savino pointed out both on Twitter and in a statement, according to The Advance, that a legal, regulated market would be far more efficient. 

“As it pertains to all New Yorkers, it is a step in the right direction, but failing to establish a legal, regulated, safe market means you are still buying it from criminals,” Savino expressed. “And behind every low level street dealers who might just be trying to make ends meet, is a criminal cartel. We need to keep the pressure on to develop a safe, legal alternative.”


Others, like New York Assemblyman Michael Reilly, who has long-opposed legalization, are taking a more unlettered outlook on things. “The bottom line is that marijuana is still illegal,” he told “This is just the continued deterioration of our quality of life here in New York, especially in communities like those on Staten Island,” he continued. I mean really, the guy sounds ready to literally put out your joint himself. 

With the two parties standing at opposite corners of the cannabis legalization ring, the bill represents a compromise between those who oppose legalization, and those fighting the disproportionate impacts of current law enforcement. Under the new bill, the penalty is $50 for possessing less than an ounce of cannabis or a maximum of $200 for one-two ounces. 

The law will take effect 30 days from Monday (July 29), though, so don’t start packing the bong just yet!


Emerald contributor since June 2019


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