New York reduces penalties for marijuana possession

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York's governor signed a bill Monday that softens penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana and allows for the expungement of some past convictions.

The legislation signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes unlawful possession of marijuana a violation.

The penalty is $50 for possessing less than one ounce of pot or a maximum of $200 for one to two ounces.

The law also requires that records tied to low-level marijuana cases be automatically sealed and creates a process for expungement. It will take effect 30 days from Monday.

"Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice once and for all," Cuomo said in a statement.

Advocates for legal marijuana acknowledge the law is a step forward but also say it falls short of addressing a web of negative consequences that come with having marijuana as an illegal violation.

"Police have historically found a way to work around the decriminalization of marijuana," said Erin George, of Citizen Action of New York.

People can still face probation violations and immigration consequences under the decriminalization bill, George said.

Melissa Moore, New York state deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said the law will continue to allow authorities to target people of color and their communities for marijuana enforcement.

At least 24,400 people will no longer have a criminal record due to the bill, according to New York's Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The law will prompt the sealing of more than 200,000 convictions for low-level marijuana offenses, according to the agency.

Some in Long Island believe the criminal records should still stand.

"I don't love the idea of wiping out a prior record," said Sue Teich, of Plainview. "What you did when it was illegal is still illegal."

Others believe that it will ease overcrowding in jail. One Long Island resident said too many people are in jail for small offenses and that taxpayers are paying for it.

State lawmakers considered legalizing marijuana for recreational use this year, but that legislation stalled after state leaders failed to reach an agreement on key details in the final days of the legislative session.

Others on Long Island are worried about the effects of what the new law will do.

Lillian Gonzalez, of Bethpage, is worried that marijuana could often be a gateway drug. She says she lost her brother when he was 16 to drug use, which started with smoking marijuana.

"And then he went to heroin--wanted something stronger and that's what happened," Gonzalez said.

The new law goes into effect in 30 days.

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