It looks as though New Yorkers will have to wait until the state legislature reconvenes in January to see any progress made in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to decriminalize marijuana in the state. Hoping to turn this bill into law by the end of the 2012 legislative session, Governor Cuomo has been thwarted by GOP opposition who believe the law goes too far.
The bill in question aims to reduce the penalty for public possession of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation, bringing with it a fine as opposed to an arrest. This has become a hot topic after the controversial stop and frisk enforcement became a huge individual rights debate. Shown to disproportionately target Hispanic and black males, the search process creates a sticky situation when marijuana is found. Private possession is only a violation, but when the targeted individual is forced to open his pockets during a search, that may or may not have been due to suspicion of drug use, the possession is now public, making it an arrestable misdemeanor offense.
The decriminalization bill would not only have reduced prison population and arrest rates, saving the city a great deal of public funds, it would also serve to create a more equitable environment for those being targeted by these unwarranted searches. Unfortunately, these potential positive outcomes have been ignored, along with the bill itself.
At this point in time, the state ofNew Yorkwill have to wait until January to revisit this bill, unless Governor Cuomo calls a special session, which is highly unlikely. The main reason behind the opposition to the bill is that lawmakers believe that it will lead to flaunting the law. Rep. Dean Skelos even commented, “Being able to just walk around with 10 joint in each ear, and it only be a violation, I think that’s wrong.”
This quote shows a great deal about the current leadership in place. It is both overstating the potential problems (who would ever walk around with 10 joints in each ear?) and shows an obvious personal motive on the subject, with his use of “I” as opposed “my constituents.” Rep. Skelos and the rest of the GOP are simply obstructing the natural evolution of law and justice by denying even the prospect for debate about whether marijuana should be legalized.
So, for the time being, a criminal possession of marijuana charge in New York Citywill still be considered a class B misdemeanor, which comes with a presumptive sentence of up to three months in jail and up to $500 in fines. With a New York criminal defense attorney, these penalties could possibly be mitigated, but the issue still remains.
In continuing to enforce these penalties, the state of New York will continue to degrade the trust between law enforcement and the community, along with leaving many otherwise decent human beings with permanent criminal records and increased chances for recidivism.
Hopefully by January, the New York State Legislature will be more informed on this issue and leave ideological stances on the sidelines so there can be a rational debate about whether marijuana should be decriminalized.