Lawmakers in New York have voted to get rid of criminal penalties for public possession and use of marijuana.
The move, which is set to reduce low level criminal charges for unlawful possession of marijuana, comes after attempts to legalise the drug stalled.
Under new rules, the penalty for being caught in possession of cannabis will be $50 for less than one ounce, or $200 for one to two ounces.
The bill would also allow for the expungement of past convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana, in a bid to address the racial disparities in drug arrests in recent years.
It was passed by the state Senate on Thursday evening, just a few hours before the chamber adjourned for the year. Passage followed Friday morning in the state Assembly before it too adjourned.
Senate Jamaal Bailey said how convictions for weed possession can continually affect a person’s life ‘limiting their access to housing, access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment.’
The bill, which was sponsored by Bailey, came when legislation set to legalise, regulate and tax marijuana sales fell through on Wednesday after lawmakers failed to reach a consensus on key details, like how tax revenue would be used and now local communities would decide on whether to host dispensaries.
Lawmakers who were hoping to vote in favour of legalising the drug say the decriminalisation bill may be a prelude to full legalisation next year.
Senate Diane Savino said, as reported by the MailOnline:
This is one step on the path. We will get there.
New York has been taking steps to decriminalise the drug ever since the 1970s, but the current law allows police to arrest people for having weed in public, with many people believing the law allows police to target young racial minorities.
It’s thought up to 600,000 New York residents could have their criminal records revoked as a result of the bill.
This is a huge step forward in the liberal fight to decriminalise the substance.
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Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining the LADbible Group team in 2017.