Marijuana decriminalization bill takes effect in Empire State

About a month after the state decriminalized cannabis, New Yorkers with low-level marijuana convictions will have their records expunged. 

The measure, considered a win in the fight against racial discrimination, will affect nearly 25,000 people, most of whom are in New York City. Meanwhile, smoking weed in public will only be punishable with a fine rather than jail time.

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice once and for all. By […] reducing Draconian penalties, we are taking a critical step forward in addressing a broken and discriminatory criminal justice process,” Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed the decriminalization bill last month, said in a statement.

Governor Cuomo is a supporter of full legalization in the state, even naming it one of his top policy priorities last year.

Over in Kentucky, a similar effort to alleviate racial discrepancy in drug arrests was announced this week as well. 

“For me to truly be a minister of justice, I cannot sit idly by when communities of color are treated differently,” Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell said after announcing his office’s intention to stop pursuing low-level marijuana charges.

Under the new policy, the county attorney’s office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases involving one ounce or less of weed. 

America’s controversial War on Drugs led to a multitude of policies that ended up targeting minorities. Numerous statistics point to racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, and sentencing.

An analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that African-Americans were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people between 2001 and 2011. Meanwhile, other data points to the fact that nearly 80% of people serving time in federal prisons are African-American or Latino.

The forerunner of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) – the Federal Bureau of Narcotics – is credited with criminalizing cannabis under the helm of its first commissioner Harry J. Anslinger.

Today, the DEA is still aggressively fighting cannabis cultivation, but it exhibits a much different attitude towards medical cannabis.

The fact that 33 states and D.C. have legalized cannabis in some form in the past decade is proof that there’s a substantial political effort to end the negative consequences of the war on drugs.

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