New York State lawmakers work to pass marijuana decriminalization bill

A bill that would further decriminalize marijuana possession in New York has been proposed by two lawmakers.

Lawmakers say current law unfairly target African-American and Hispanic people

Two New York state assemblymen are working to pass a bill that will help further decriminalize marijuana possession in the state, according to the New York Observer. Although New York technically decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug back in 1977, a loophole in the law meant that people could still face a criminal record for pot possession. The lawmakers claim the current law has unfairly targeted African-American and Hispanic people, while allowing white New Yorkers to possess marijuana largely consequence free.

Public vs. private possession

The 1977 decriminalization of marijuana law classified two types of possession: public and private. People arrested for private possession of the drug were issued only with violations; however, public possession could lead to a criminal misdemeanor charge.

The problem with that distinction is that when police stop people on the street and ask them to empty their pockets, the minute any marijuana contained in a person's pocket becomes visible to the public then it is considered public possession, thus leading to a criminal misdemeanor charge. Blacks and Latinos have been disproportionately targeted for such stops. In 2013, 85 percent of people who were stopped by police were either African Americans or Latinos.

Lawmakers seek fairness

The two lawmakers behind the bill say that such a situation is inherently racist and unfair. They also note that although New York State has technically decriminalized marijuana possession, New York City police have arrested an average of 80 people per day for possession.

The Fairness and Equity Act would make public possession punishments the same as those for private possession. People arrested for public possession would be issued with a noncriminal violation. In addition, the bill changes the definition of marijuana sales. Current law defines the sale of marijuana as any exchange of the drug, which could even include passing a point. The proposed legislation would stipulate that marijuana would have to be exchanged for money in order to be classified as a sale. Sale of marijuana can include much stiffer penalties for offenders than a charge for possession.

Fighting against drug charges

As the above story shows, New York's drug laws are constantly evolving, just as they are in many other states. However, drug possession and trafficking still remain serious offenses, even if such charges are just for marijuana.

Anybody who has been charged with a drug crime will need the help of a qualified criminal defense attorney. An attorney who is well-versed in state and federal drug laws can provide invaluable advise for anybody fighting against a drug charge or related criminal offense.

Keywords: marijuana, possession, decriminalization, New York, drug charges