Marijuana decriminalization law goes into effect

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(NEWS10) — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation in July decriminalizing marijuana use in the state. Nearly one month later, the Governor’s Office announced the new law is in effect as of today August 28.

The law eliminates the criminal penalties for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana. Instead, public possession, or use of that much pot, would result in a violation punishable by fines of $50 for an ounce or less or $200 for between one ounce and two ounces.

In a statement, Governor Cuomo said, “For too long communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana and have suffered the life-long consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction.

“Today is the start of a new chapter in the criminal justice system. By providing individuals a path to have their records expunged, including those who have been unjustly impacted based on their race or ethnicity, and reducing the penalty for unlawful possession of marijuana to a fine, we are giving many New Yorkers the opportunity to live better and more productive, successful and healthier lives.”

If you already have an unlawful possession violation or class B misdemeanor on your record, it’ll be automatically expunged. 

Rensselaer County District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly says the law is a good idea, but she has concerns about the funding. She says the workload will be a burden on the court system.

“Now, we are going to have a certain responsibility to make sure that these files are not disseminated to the public,” Donnelly told News01, “but again, that’s going to be people hours. ”

She’s also disappointed that the marijuana legislation was not tied to funding for addressing the opioid and fentanyl issues in New York State. 

“I thought this was an opportunity to acknowledge that as New Yorkers, marijuana is not really our main concern,” Donnelly told News10, “but that we really do have some substances out on the streets that are a big concern.”

But as far as marijuana goes, Donnelly wants to make sure the public is clear on what this law means. 

“In hopes that low level offenders will now not face a lifetime of a criminal conviction, I certainly caution the public to recognize it is not legalized,” Donnelly said.

Before the state looks at legalization, Albany County District Attorney David Soares says they need to not only consider roadway safety, but how they’ll reinvest in communities that have been most effected by the war on pot. 

“The question then becomes,” Soares told News10, “what are we going to do today so that we are not enriching the person on Wall Street for doing the same thing that we’ve been prosecuting the person on first Street for?”

Soares also wants people to be aware that they may be eligible to have their records sealed now that marijuana has been decriminalized. A person with one felony and one misdemeanor on their record can be entitle to having their record sealed and kept private from agencies outside of law enforcement, after they’ve been crime free for ten years. A person who had a felony and two misdemeanors, one of which being a marijuana offense, was not eligible for sealing their record until today, since that marijuana offense has now been expunged.

To read the full details about the new law click here.

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