So, it’s not a full-blown “I was wrong about everything, let’s legalize it all, for everybody, immediately,” but hey, legislative baby steps. In yesterday’s State of the State (ha) address, Governor Cuomo acknowledged the state’s wildly erratic enforcement of its marijuana laws, which regard possession of amounts under 25 grams in public view as a misdemeanor, and yet have resulted in hundreds of thousands of minor arrests over the past decade costing around $600 million dollars.
“The legislature finds that arrests, criminal prosecutions, and criminal penalties are inappropriate for people who possess small quantities of marijuana for personal use,” he said during the speech. “Every year, this process needlessly scars thousands of lives and wastes millions of dollars in law enforcement resources, while detracting from the prosecution of serious crime. It’s not fair, it’s not right. It must end, and it must end now.”
Which, yes! Totally! Please do something about that. Unfortunately, Cuomo is currently on record as saying the “risks outweigh the benefits” of actual legalization in New York, but nonetheless, he’s proposing to decriminalize possession of 15 grams or less of pot, regardless of whether or not it’s in public view. Under the proposal (a similar, Bloomberg and Kelly-endorsed version of which didn’t make it through the Senate last year), possession of that small amount would no longer be regarded as misdemeanor, but as a violation punishable with a fine. It’s not the ideal end-game, necessarily, but still, a stupid, unnecessary fine is a whole lot less damaging to the average citizen (and to the state economy) than a stupid, unnecessary stint in prison. Seems like a good plan.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.