Keep off the grass in NY: The MRTA is dead, but decriminalization expanded

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Keep off the grass in NY: The MRTA is dead, but decriminalization expanded

June 25, 2019 | Education, News

The bill to legalize recreational marijuana in New York– the MRTA –will not pass this session. Democratic lawmakers had been in a race to finalize the agreement before the end of the legislative session last week.

Bill sponsor and State Senator, Liz Krueger, issued a statement Wednesday saying the legislature “came very close to crossing the finish line, but we ran out of time.”

She says it “means countless more New Yorkers will have their lives up-ended by unnecessary and racially disparate enforcement measures before we inevitably legalize.”

What was MRTA, and what was it intended to do?

The MRTA stands for the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. It was intended to legally regulate the use, production, and sale of marijuana. It would’ve established a regulatory structure similar to what currently exists for alcohol in New York State. The bill would’ve also retroactively addressed previously-criminalized offenses and provide opportunities for the resentencing of people previously convicted of a marijuana-related crime.

Why didn’t it pass?

There was a clash over what would happen with the anticipated $300 million in annual tax revenue. The bill’s sponsors wanted to allocate funds to communities that have been hit the hardest by the war on drugs, and Governor Cuomo wanted to create a new state agency to oversee the industry and decide where the money should go.

What does this mean for future legalization efforts?

A more watered-down decriminalization bill, S.6579A, sponsored by Jamaal T. Daily (D), was passed by the Senate on Friday. This bill aims to reduce the penalty for possessing marijuana and would also allow for certain marijuana-related criminal records to be expunged.

So what does the law say now about cannabis in NY?

Contrary to what you might assume based the sights and smells of the city, it’s not legal to smoke marijuana yet (unless you’re one of the 59,000 people with a medical card.)

The new bill will:

  • Decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by reducing the penalty for unlawful possession of marijuana to a violation punishable by a fine.
  • Establish procedures for automatic record expungement both retroactively and for future convictions.
  • Remove criminal penalties (since a violation is not a crime) for possession of any amount of marijuana under two ounce.
  • Reduce the penalty to a $50 fine regardless of criminal history for possession under one ounce, and a $200 fine regardless of criminal history for possession between one and two ounces.
  • Add marijuana to the definition of “smoking” under the Public Health Law so that smoking marijuana will be prohibited in any circumstances where smoking tobacco is prohibited by law
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