On Tuesday, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo declared his proposed marijuana decriminalization measure dead after facing extremely mixed reviews from legislators in the state. The bill would have decriminalized up to 25 grams of marijuana and made first offenses punishable by a $150 fine rather than jail time.
Democrats, who control the State Assembly, were in favor of the bill. With many of them being minorities from urban areas, they felt that decriminalization would lead to a decrease in arrests of Latinos and blacks who are unfairly targeted in police searches.
Assemblywoman Inez D. Barron (Democrat) was in favor of the bill, and is disappointed that Governor Cuomo did not do more to force the issue. She explained, “It’s not a critical issue to [Governor Cuomo], but it is for our communities, and we understand it.”
The Republicans, who run the State Senate, are mostly white and from rural districts. Their perspective differed from the more urban-based Democrats; Republicans saw decriminalization as an open invitation for young people to use drugs with minimal consequences. Republicans were also concerned that decriminalization would make Albany and the state of New York look as though they were not tough on crime.
Republican Senator John J. Flanagan said, “Marijuana still is a gateway drug to so many other much more dangerous things.”
With the legislative session ending on Thursday and lawmakers with vastly different opinions on the matter, Governor Cuomo declared the proposed decriminalization of marijuana dead.
Of the difference of opinions, Governor Cuomo explained, “You have old folks like me who say, ‘Whoa, the decriminalization of marijuana: what are you saying? Everyone is going to walk around smoking marijuana and that’s OK?’ So I think the Senate got a lot of blowback, pardon the pun.”
The decriminalization proposal was initially brought up by Governor Cuomo two weeks ago as a means of ending New York City’s established “stop and frisk” procedure, which oftentimes leads to people being arrested for showing that they had a small amount of marijuana on their person.
Governor Cuomo had the support of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the speaker of the Assembly, the police commissioner, and New York City’s 5 District Attorneys. Unfortunately, the proposal did not make it past the initial stages due to the control of Republicans in the Senate.
This is a matter of contention for New Yorkers, as lawmakers from Upstate New York have the power to derail proposals which will primarily impact residents of New York City, rather than the entire state. Decriminalization would primarily impact city dwellers, as 90% of low level marijuana arrests in New York State occur in New York City.
During the general election this November, all legislative seats will be on the ballot. This means that there is potential that such a measure could move forward in the next legislative session. Governor Cuomo is hopeful that this will be the case, as measures regarding certain issues can take time to gain support. “Many of the large issues, social issues, they don’t happen over a period of weeks,” he said. “It takes a period of months, sometimes a period of years.