Earlier this year, New York appeared poised to be the second largest state to legalize recreational marijuana. That effort fell apart despite Democratic control of both chambers of the New York Legislature and the Governorship. But recognizing that something is better than nothing, New York recently passed legislation to decriminalize marijuana. New York becomes the 15th state to decriminalize recreational marijuana, with 11 other states and D.C. legalizing it fully.
The law has both a prospective and retroactive impact. Prospectively, possession of small amounts of marijuana will be punished by a fine rather than a criminal conviction and potential jail time. Retroactively, those previously convicted of small-time possession offenses will have a mechanism to petition for review and expungement of their records.
Although New York’s failure to pass a legalization bill stings, the passage of the decriminalization bill could set the stage for a renewed effort in 2020. Criminal justice/social equity reforms associated with legalization/decriminalization (such as expungement procedures) have proven to be highly contentious in many states, including Illinois. With New York having reached an agreement on those issues with this bill, perhaps there is a smoother path forward for full legalization. We will be monitoring New York closely, as legalization there could have a domino effect on neighboring states such as New Jersey and Connecticut. Check in on our blog for further developments.