By David Keppler, Associated Press
(AP) — Lawmakers in New York state have voted to eliminate criminal penalties for public possession and use of marijuana after efforts to legalize pot stalled.
The measure would reduce low-level criminal charges for unlawful possession of marijuana to a violation, which comes with a fine similar to a parking ticket. The penalty would be $50 for possessing less than one ounce of pot or $200 for one to two ounces.
In an effort to address decades of racial disparities in drug arrests, the bill would also allow for the expungement of past convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The state Senate passed the bill Thursday evening a few hours before the chamber adjourned for the year. Passage followed Friday morning in the state Assembly before it too adjourned.
Sen. Jamaal Bailey, D-the Bronx and the bill’s sponsor, said misdemeanor convictions for pot possession can affect a person for life, “limiting their access to housing, access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment.”
The bill emerged as a fallback option when legislation that would have legalized, regulated and taxed marijuana sales fizzled Wednesday after lawmakers couldn’t reach consensus on key details, such as how tax revenue would be used and how local communities would decide whether they want to host dispensaries.
Lawmakers who had hoped to vote on legalization said the decriminalization bill may be a prelude to full legalization next year.
AP Photo/Richard Vogel