Up In Smoke: New York Not Only Legalized Weed, They’re Erasing Marijuana Criminal Records Too

new york marijuana law expunge records
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New Yorkers who have marijuana-related crimes on their records will have those expunged, as part of the sweeping marijuana legalization bill signed into law on Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation about 12 hours after the Legislature officially approved it, making the Empire State the 15th state to allow recreational marijuana for adults, and providing a way for people with pot-related crimes holding them back to clear their records.

“This is a historic day in New York — one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits,” Cuomo said in a statement.

While the laws around recreational marijuana might grab headlines, some feel that the expunged record portions of the law are the most important.

“Because of the sheer extent of harm that had been inflicted on Black and Brown communities over the years, any marijuana reform that was brought forth had to be equally comprehensive to begin repairing the damage,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in an article in The Verge.

That article noted that New Yorkers of color made up 94 percent of marijuana-related arrests and summonses in 2020.

Melissa Moore, New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance, termed the law “one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization programs in the nation,” adding, “New York has taken bold action to put a nail in the coffin of the war on drugs.”

There are also financial benefits to the new laws. ABC News stated that up to 60,000 jobs and $350 million in annual tax revenue could be gained as a result of the legislation.

The Verge noted that the tax revenue from marijuana sales will go toward various community initiatives, including education, job training, and drug treatment programs.

“My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, the bill’s sponsor.

In particular, according to Insider, 40 percent of the revenue will be earmarked for communities where Black and Latino people have been disproportionately arrested on marijuana charges, and well as toward those who have had their records expunged.


Written by Phil West