Marijuana Decriminalization Is Expanded in N.Y., but Full Legalization Fails

Originally published in The New York Times

ALBANY — New York lawmakers, having fallen short in a push to fully legalize marijuana, have agreed to further decriminalize possession of the drug and automatically expunge many low-level marijuana convictions across the state.

The measure, which would treat possession of up to two ounces of marijuana as a violation instead of a crime, is a significant change in a state in which tens of thousands of residents have been arrested for small-scale possession. 

The agreement came after months of negotiations in Albany failed to establish the type of fully legalized industry embraced in nearly a dozen other states, including California, Washington and Alaska. 

Still, the measure agreed to on Thursday by the Democrat-led Legislature, and backed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, also a Democrat, was still considered a step forward for those pushing for lessening drug penalties, particularly the expungement of records. 

Senator Velmanette Montgomery, a Brooklyn Democrat, emphasized the importance of retroactive expungement, even as she called it “half of what we would like to see done.”

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