New York lawmakers, having fallen short in a push to fully legalize marijuana, have agreed to further decriminalize possession of the drug and automatically expunge many low-level marijuana convictions across the state, The New York Times reports.
The measure, which would treat possession of up to two ounces of marijuana as a violation instead of a crime, is a significant change in a state in which tens of thousands of residents have been arrested for small-scale possession.
The agreement came after months of negotiations in Albany failed to establish the type of fully legalized industry embraced in nearly a dozen other states, including California, Washington and Alaska.
Still, the measure agreed to on Thursday by the Democrat-led Legislature, and backed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, also a Democrat, was still considered a step forward for those pushing for lessening drug penalties, particularly the expungement of records.
“It was a critical part of the adult-use fight that we put forward,” said Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which works to reform drug laws.
The State Senate passed the bill early on Thursday evening, 39-23, and the Assembly was expected to follow suit later that night.
The decriminalization bill was the latest in a flurry of progressive-minded legislation pushed through the statehouse as the closing days of the legislative session dragged beyond its scheduled end on Wednesday. In the last two weeks alone, the recently elected Democratic majority has passed major bills revamping rent regulation, confronting climate change and allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr. Cuomo — who as recently as 2017 had called marijuana “a gateway drug” — praised the decriminalization bill, saying it would make a difference for many who were ensnared in the criminal justice system as a result of marijuana.