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With legalization of marijuana, New York will expunge prior convictions

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New York has passed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in the state. The new legislation also expunges the records of people who were convicted on marijuana-related charges that are no longer criminalized. People with past convictions will be among those prioritized for licenses to cultivate, process, and sell marijuana products.

New Yorkers can now carry up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrates like oils and store up to five pounds at home. There are expansions to the state’s medical cannabis program, including the addition of more eligible conditions and a higher possession limit. The bill also prohibits using the smell of marijuana as justification for searching someone’s car, though it can still be used as a reason to suspect the driver is intoxicated.

Advocates have long been calling for reforms that address the disproportionate effects of drug criminalization on people of color. New Yorkers of color made up 94 percent of marijuana-related arrests and summonses in 2020, according to an analysis of NYPD data by The Legal Aid Society. “Because of the sheer extent of harm that had been inflicted on Black and Brown communities over the years, any marijuana reform that was brought forth had to be equally comprehensive to begin repairing the damage,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Tax revenue from marijuana sales will be directed toward education, job training, drug treatment programs, and other community initiatives. “My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, who sponsored the bill.

The law establishes “one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization programs in the nation,” said Melissa Moore, New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “New York has taken bold action to put a nail in the coffin of the war on drugs.”

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