If you thought at the end of the legislative session in New York State you would now have free rein to smoke marijuana you’re sadly mistaken. It cannot be said more clearly than this—marijuana is not legal, but it is decriminalized. Marijuana: our legislators in the state have decriminalized the use of marijuana. Decriminalization: as it is agreed upon, means that up to 2 ounces of marijuana will be treated as a violation instead of a crime. Violators will be subjected to fines as low as $50 for less than an ounce and up to a $200 fine for 1 to 2 ounces of possession. More than 2 ounces will be considered a crime but smoking in public will be considered a violation.
This is a good thing, but for such a progressive blue state it seems the motivations are still all connected to green. Violations have the potential to become warrants for arrest if they are unpaid which can lead to an appearance before a judge. When we look at Black and Brown communities impacted, retroactive justice should be at its essence. The decriminalization of marijuana seals and expunges past convictions for possession of 25 grams or less. This alone has the ability to affect over 900,000 people in the state in a progressive way, yet there’s no real celebration because marijuana is not legal.
Even with this step in the right direction the reality based on a study is that Black and Brown communities are more heavily policed for misdemeanor arrests in comparison to whites. Decriminalization was the least New York State legislators could do when you understand the disparate impact on Black and Brown communities the over policing and criminalization of marijuana has caused. In a world where legalization of marijuana is big business, a potential $3.1 billion projected by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, marijuana dissenters have become cannabis supporters. At the beginning of the legislative session Gov. Cuomo claimed from behind a podium, “Let New York Lead,” while touting a marijuana legalization goal in one breath but two years ago referred to it as a “gateway drug.” This rebranding shift by the governor isn’t an isolated figurative metamorphosis.
What was once doused in the negative headlines as “weed” and “pot” is now simply cannabis for those making money off it. Former legislators like former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner are now in this business because of the green that can be made regardless of the rhetoric once spewed that made smokers criminals by so called law and practice. The green light for recreational use will have to wait for another session as the legislators of the state continue to give a snail tale to the direction of progression.
Keron Alleyne is a community organizer and co-chair of Operation P.O.W.E.R.