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

Originally published in The New York Times on June 20, 2019.

Possession of up to two ounces or less of marijuana in New York State will be treated as a violation instead of a crime, with fines dropping to as low as $50.

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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