New York
Last Update: February 23, 2015

N.Y. becomes 23rd medical marijuana state!

On July 5, 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a limited medical marijuana bill into law, which included several revisions he insisted upon. After 18 years of work, led by tireless Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, New York is now the 23rd state with an effective medical marijuana law.

Unfortunately, the compromise bill falls short in several areas — it leaves out several serious conditions, will not allow patients to smoke cannabis, and allows very few producers and dispensaries. However, the program represents tremendous progress and will provide safe access to medical marijuana for thousands of seriously ill New Yorkers, like Dr. Richard Carlton’s wife, who suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease.

The governor has requested special permission from the federal government to import cannabis products to New York from Colorado, in order to provide emergency access to the state’s most seriously ill patients. Unfortunately, this request is unlikely to be successful. To expedite access, the governor should instead ensure that the state begins registering medical marijuana patients immediately to provide them with legal protection.

Many thanks to all the patients, loved ones, legislators, supporters, donors, and organizations whose tireless work led to the enactment of New York’s medical marijuana law and who continue to work to make sure that this important step forward will not be the last.

Gov. Cuomo abandons push to reform marijuana penalties

Earlier this year, Gov. Cuomo abandoned his push for more just marijuana penalties. Gov. Cuomo announced in January he will cease his push to replace jail time with a civil fine for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In recent years, the “public view” exception to New York’s 1977 decriminalization law has been abused by police officers. New York City police have told tens of thousands of people, mostly young people of color, to empty their pockets — thus making them criminals once their marijuana was in public view. Last year, the Assembly voted May 29 to approve a bill that would close this loophole, but the bill (A6716) did not advance in the Senate. Unlawful arrests of individuals for the possession of small amounts of marijuana have continued, despite Gov. Cuomo’s claim that the recent declaration of some stop-and-frisk searches as unconstitutional eliminates the need for comprehensive decriminalization reform in New York.

Sen. Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes have proposed a more comprehensive fix to New York’s unfair and wasteful marijuana laws — legalizing marijuana for adults and regulating it like alcohol. Let your legislators know it’s time to stop punishing adults for using a substance that is safer than alcohol.

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New York’s weak "decrim" law 

New York is one of the 19 states that penalize first-offense possession of a modest amount of marijuana with a fine instead of possible jail time (marijuana possession is legal in two other states and possession in one's home is allowed under Alaska's constitution). First-offense possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is punishable by a $100 civil citation, although first-offense possession of between 25 grams and two ounces carries a $500 fine and up to three months in jail.

As was mentioned earlier, law enforcement have been able to exploit a loophole in the decriminalization law by getting an arrestee to expose his or her marijuana as "open to public view," which converts the conduct into an offense for which individuals can be arrested. This has resulted in New York having the second highest per capita marijuana arrest rate in the U.S., at almost 93,000 people per year. What’s more, these arrests have been racially disproportionate — a report by the ACLU found that in 2010, blacks were 4.52 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana in New York. The Drug Policy Alliance and other allies have campaigned to fix this abuse, and in September 2011, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued a memo to police not to arrest people for possession that is not in public view. Unfortunately, arrests have continued.

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