By Pat Savage
Like a puff of smoke, roughly 160,000 marijuana convictions across New York State will soon disappear.
“For too long communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana and have suffered the lifelong consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “”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.”
The new law – which passed in June and took effect last Wednesday — will expunge the criminal records of people found guilty of low-level marijuana crimes.
“Even as states across the country have legalized marijuana, potentially opening the door to a multibillion dollar industry, the impact of marijuana criminalization is still being felt by people — mostly black and Hispanic — whose records are marked by low-level convictions related to the drug,” reported the New York Times.
“Of those people, 10,872 people with convictions in New York City will have no criminal records in the state, the spokeswoman said. In the rest of the state, an additional 13,537 people will have no criminal records in New York once these convictions are wiped from their record, the spokeswoman said,” the Times added.
Promoting the use of marijuana has been a major emphasis for the governor. In late July, Cuomo signed legislation (S.6579A/A.8420) further decriminalizing marijuana use in New York State. New York’s existing marijuana laws disproportionately affect African American and Latino communities, and this legislation will address those racial and ethnic disparities by reducing the penalty for unlawful possession of marijuana to a violation punishable by a fine, and by creating a process for individuals who have been convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana to have their records expunged. The Governor first proposed the further decriminalization of marijuana in 2013, and again in the FY 2020 Budget. The bill will take effect 30 days after becoming law.
“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 at the time. “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.”