NY legislature passes bill that would expunge low-level pot convictions

New York’s Legislature has passed a bill that would create a path to expunge low-level convictions for marijuana and decriminalize possession of greater amounts of the drug following a failed effort at legalization earlier this week.

Democrats say the measure, which now heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for approval, is necessary to correct decades of enforcement that targeted people of color.

The new legislation would reduce the penalty for the possession of under 1 ounce of marijuana to a $50 fine regardless of criminal history and a $200 fine for the possession of between 1 and 2 ounces, the Senate said in a release Friday. The bill would also “establish procedures for record expungements for both past and future convictions,” the release said.

The bill passed through the State Senate and Assembly after a push for full legalization didn’t advance in the Legislature on Wednesday.

Cuomo’s office did not immediately return a CNN request for comment about whether he will sign the bill. But the Democratic governor has signaled his support for policies decriminalizing or legalizing the possession of recreational marijuana, saying such measures could right “social crimes.”

Policing of the drug “victimized black and brown generations with convictions that then hurt them for the rest of their lives. And it was enforced in a discriminatory way,” Cuomo said on WAMC-FM 90.3 Thursday night. “So the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana in less than an ounce is a major, major step forward.”

The bill would “bring hope and relief to thousands of New Yorkers through the expungement of low-level marijuana records and by preventing unnecessary arrests for small amounts of marijuana,” Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo said in a statement.

While the push for full legalization was unsuccessful this session, state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the bill for full legalization, said it is “only a delay.” Progressive lawmakers will continue the push for legalization next year, she said.

In 1977, New York’s Legislature reduced the penalty for possessing 25 grams or less of marijuana to a noncriminal violation carrying a fine of no more than $100 for first-time offenders — as long as the marijuana was in private possession and not in public view.