ALBANY - Legislation that would make the penalties for private and public possession of small amounts of marijuana the same, thereby bringing consistency and fairness to New York State's Penal Law was announced Monday by Governor Andrew Cuomo, joined by legislators, district attorneys, and law enforcement officials. Advocates claim the new law will save thousands of New Yorkers, who are disproportionately Black and Hispanic youth, from unnecessary misdemeanor charges.
"Today’s announcement is about creating fairness and consistency in our laws since there is a blatant inconsistency in the way we deal with small amounts of marijuana possession," said Cuomo. "This is an issue that disproportionately affects young people — they wind up with a permanent stain on their record for something that would otherwise be a violation. The charge makes it more difficult for them to find a job. Together, we are making New York fairer and safer, and ensuring that every New Yorker has access to justice system that doesn’t discriminate based on age or color."
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, "The proposed legislation takes a balanced approach and comports with the spirit of the NYPD operations order issued on the subject last year. Further, the department's ongoing quality of life enforcement is supported by preserving the penalties for smoking marijuana in public."
Under the current New York State Penal Law individuals in possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, open to public view, can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. Private possession of the same amount of marijuana is a finable violation. This legislation would make all possession of small amounts of marijuana, public or private, a finable offense. Burning marijuana in a public place will remain a misdemeanor.
The Marijuana Reform Act, signed by Governor Hugh Carey in 1977, made private possession of a small amount of marijuana a violation punishable by a maximum fine of $100 for first time drug offenders. Marijuana in public view remained a misdemeanor.
In the years since the passage of that law, arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana have jumped from approximately 2,000 in 1990 to over 50,000 today – mainly in New York City, where 94% of the arrests occur each year.