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What's So Great About New York's Marijuana Decriminalization Law?

Pot-smoking New Yorkers are jubilant because Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Senate Bill 6579A into law on July 29. In layman's terms, it amends the state's marijuana decriminalization law, which was enacted all the way back in 1977.

Now you can carry two ounces of weed instead of 25 grams and not get busted. But you still can be fined. That amount has been reduced from $200 to $50. However, a second violation within three years of the first one is punishable by 15 days in jail or a $250 fine.

The really good news is that if "marihuana is burning or open to public view," that's no longer grounds for arrest. This misdemeanor loophole has been removed from the 1977 decrim law. Such busts were the hallmark of the Guiliani-Bloomberg-era crackdown, which saw more than a million marijuana arrests in New York City alone from 1998 to 2012, peaking at 50,000 per year several times. That's why New York was sadly dubbed the "Marijuana Arrest Capitol of the World." Most of these were due to the city's stop-and-frisk policy, which was declared unconstitutional in 2013.

New York won't have a serviceable cannabis industry like Massachusetts and Colorado until 2022 at the earliest.

Since Bill deBlasio took over as mayor in 2014, arrests began to decline. Now they will pretty much stop altogether. Smoking in public is permitted as long as it's not in an area where tobacco smoking is also not allowed.

Another key aspect of S.6579A is the expungement of previous marijuana convictions in the state. This means all counts "will be vacated and dismissed" automatically.

These amendments go into effect August 28.

No doubt these are major improvements to the decrim law. But it's still not legalization. Rather than going for the touchdown, the state legislature kicked a field goal instead. Legalization was on the table, but not enough votes were there to pass it. Further decrim turned out to be the consolation prize.

So go outside and smoke a joint. Just remember you still have to by the stuff from a friendly dealer or delivery service. New York won't have a serviceable cannabis industry like Massachusetts and Colorado until 2022 at the earliest. That's another two years of decrim. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.