New York Fails to Legalize Adult Use Cannabis, Expands Decriminalization

Some bad news for those waiting for New York to legalize adult-use cannabis. Legislation aimed at legalizing adult-use cannabis failed on Wednesday (June 19), as state leaders in New York could not agree on certain key components of the  proposed Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (the “MRTA”).

One of the biggest points of contention in the MRTA was how the state would allocate the projected $300 million in annual tax revenue. In particular, some legislators argued that the funds should be allocated towards communities negatively impacted by the war on drugs, while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo argued that the executive branch – which he leads – should have more control over how that money is spent.

In addition, lawmakers also struggled to reach consensus on whether past cannabis convictions should be expunged and whether cities and counties would be expected to opt in to cannabis sales or, alternately, be able to opt out.

While adult-use maybe be off the table for now, on June 21, 2019, the New York Assembly and Senate approved a bill (A08420) to further decriminalize possession of cannabis and automatically expunge many low-level cannabis convictions.

Under A08420:

  • The penalty for possessing an ounce of cannabis (possession in the second degree) will be reduced to a $50 fine. Current law imposes a $100 fine, provided that the individual does not have a prior cannabis-related offense within the past three years.
  • The limit for cannabis possession in the first degree will be increased from 25 grams to one ounce, and the penalty will be reduced from a misdemeanor to a $200 fine. Currently, first-degree cannabis possession  can result in up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500.
  • Cannabis in “public view” will no longer be a misdemeanor offense.
  • Cannabis possession arrests and convictions for amounts decriminalized under the bill will be automatically expunged, and will apply to convictions prior to decriminalization.

A08420 will take effect and become law pending signature by Governor Cuomo.