ALBANY, NY — As lawmakers in Albany continue to struggle to fix loopholes in New York’s 35 year old marijuana decriminalization law that result in continued marijuana possession arrests, one State Senator has a better fix: legalize and regulate marijuana for adults.
“It is my intention as a New York State senator to soon introduce a law that would actually decriminalize, regulate and tax marijuana in New York,” State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said last week at a forum hosted by Baruch College.
Krueger’s “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act,” which has not yet been filed, would allow New Yorkers over the age of 21 to grow up to six mature marijuana plants at home, and would establish a system of retail stores regulated and overseen by the New York State Liquor Authority.
The bill proposes a marijuana tax of $50 per ounce, of which 80% would go to the state’s general fund, with the rest earmarked for substance abuse, criminal re-entry and job training programs.
Cities and towns would be given the option of imposing an additional 5% tax on marijuana sales in their community, or banning retail sales of marijuana entirely.
The bill would also contain provisions preventing the operation of motor vehicles under the influence of marijuana.
Under New York state law, the private possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal civil citation, punishable by a $100 fine, but the possession of any amount of cannabis in public view remains a criminal misdemeanor.
Although New York decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, the “public view” exception to the law continues to allow police to continue to arrest people — mostly young minorities — in record numbers for simple marijuana possession.
The practice, which has drawn criticism to the New York Police Department and earned the Big Apple a reputation as the “Pot Bust Capital of the World,” involves police officers telling a suspect to empty their pockets, thus bringing the marijuana into “public view” — an arrestable offense.
A report released in March found that the NYPD had spent one million hours making marijuana arrests over the past decade, and that simple marijuana possession misdemeanors are the number one arrest in New York City — by far.
Studies have shown that arresting and prosecuting low level marijuana offenders in New York City has little or no long-term impact on law enforcement efforts to reduce violent crime in the city.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for reforming the state’s marijuana possession laws and fixing the “public view” exception, but the legislature has been slow to act. The Assembly came close to a legislative fix in March after weeks of negotiations, but when they couldn’t agree on a simple proposal, they voted to adjourn for vacation.
Last year, Governor Cuomo introduced similar legislation to reform the law, but the Senate refused to act when then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County) stalled progress of the bill, expressing an absurd concern that people could walk around with 10 joints in each ear – despite the fact that the reform proposal was supported by law enforcement leaders throughout the state.
Recent polls have shown that New Yorkers support marijuana reform. A December poll found that 51% of New Yorkers would support a marijuana legalization bill in the state, and a poll released this week found that over 82% are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.
Lawmakers are considering several medical marijuana bills this session, including one that has been quietly advancing through the legislative process.
The Compassionate Care Act, Assembly Bill 6357, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, has substantial support in the Assembly, with over 60 co-sponsors. An identical companion bill, Senate Bill 4406, is pending in the Senate, with over a dozen co-sponsors.
The bills, both introduced by lawmakers representing voters in New York City, would create one of the nation’s most tightly regulated medical marijuana programs, and has the support of hundreds of patients and providers and dozens of organizations across the state.
But not everyone in New York is in favor of marijuana reform. One state Senator, Greg Ball (R-District 40), has introduced Senate Bill 4930, the “Illegal Narcotics Dispensary Ban,” which aims to prevent any medical or recreational marijuana dispensaries that may become authorized from current pending, or future, legislation.
Another lawmaker, Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak (D- District 143), introduced a bill to ban novelty candies shaped to resemble marijuana, regardless of whether they contain cannabis, from being sold in the state. That bill quickly advanced through the Assembly, earning a third reading in the Senate before the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee killed the bill.
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