BY Mackenzie Rizzo
The state of New York has softened penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana and created a process for erasing certain past offenses in the state law that went into place in August, the Associated Press reported.
Professor Gary Rose, the chair of the Government department, said, “Decriminalization is the proper approach. Rather than being sent to prison, marijuana offenders should be charged with a misdemeanor and fined. Prison is too extreme.”
According to the Associated Press, the law now states the greatest penalty for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana is a $50 fine. Having unlawful possession of the drug will now be a violation similar to a traffic ticket instead of a criminal charge.
On Twitter, Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement that said, “I just signed legislation decriminalizing marijuana use in New York & creating a process for expunging past convictions. Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice.”
According to New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, the law will remove more than 200,000 convictions for low level offenses and at least 24,000 people will no longer have a criminal record, AP reported.
Many people believe the new law is a step in the right direction but also argue that communities of color can still be targeted by law enforcement.
“I agree with the change that has been made in New York,” said Alyse Adamo, a first-year graduate student. “I do not believe it is right for people to be incarcerated for possession of marijuana because it is not a serious offense, in my opinion. Being imprisoned leaves a major toll on one’s life, and I do not believe it is fair for anyone to experience such a negative penalty for a minor crime.”
Though they’ve come close this year, Connecticut lawmakers have yet to decide when to make another attempt at legalizing recreational marijuana, AP reported.
“The resistance against legalization in Connecticut was very strong this past legislative session and it appears that the Governor will turn his focus on higher priority items, so I doubt recreational marijuana will be legalized in the near future,” said Rose.
In the meantime, some will be looking towards developments in New York.
“There have been some attempts at further legislative changes, but there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue and those recent efforts were not successful,” said Deputy Chief of Public Safety Edward Shea. “I do think the recent changes in New York are likely to be analyzed very closely by Connecticut residents and lawmakers who are looking to determine if it is viable to make similar changes here in our state.”
“For some people there will be an immediate short-term positive affect if their criminal record is expunged. It may be a way for them to get a fresh start with a clean criminal history, and that was a major goal of the legislators in New York. Helping people overcome past mistakes should have a strong positive impact on society if those people take advantage of the opportunity and go on to improve their lives,” said Shea.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.