New York decriminalizes marijuana: what you need to know

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New Yorkers caught with personal amounts of cannabis will no longer be considered criminals.

Despite failing to completely legalize marijuana earlier this year, a new law has changed possession of small amounts of marijuana from a low-level misdemeanor to a non-criminal violation.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the new bill last month, CBS New York reports.

The law reduces the penalty for minor possession from a low-level misdemeanor to a non-criminal violation punishable by fine. Anyone caught with less than an ounce would pay a $50 fine, while holding between one to two ounces would incur a maximum $200 fine.

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Perhaps the most important component of the bill is the expungement of over 150,000 previous marijuana convictions, many of which unfairly targeted minorities. The records of crimes involving the possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana will now be sealed.

“Although New York has had some form of decriminalization since 1977, the criminalization of marijuana continued to harm communities, break up families, and cost New York taxpayers billions of dollars over the last forty years,” said Tyler McFadden, a Political Associate for NORML, to Rolling Stone. “State legislators made the right choice by taking this important step to decriminalize marijuana and expunge past records, and the move gives legislators and activists the momentum they need to finally legalize marijuana in the Empire State.”

Despite the reduction in punishment, there are still many ways to run into trouble with pot in New York:

Smoking weed is still illegal.

Just as all parks, beaches, school grounds, subway stations, and several other outdoor public spaces prohibit smoking cigarettes, that also includes pot.

Stops and searches are still legal if police smell marijuana.

This major loophole could allow interactions to continue between police and individuals who have already been affected by crimes involving marijuana.

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Police can still arrest violators.

Police officers are allowed to take accused violators into custody if they don’t show identification, or if they are from out of state.

A low-level misdemeanor can significantly affect offenders.

Although possession will no longer be considered a criminal conviction, its history can be almost as damaging. “It’s still something that shows up on your record and stays with you for a very long time,” Emma Goodman, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, told Gothamist. “And it can affect your ability to get jobs and housing and all of the things that criminal convictions can affect.

Oscar Pascual is the editor of Smell the Truth, syndicated on GreenState and SFGATE. Smell The Truth is one of the internet’s most popular destinations for cannabis-related news and culture. This blog is not written or edited by Hearst. The authors are solely responsible for the content.