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New York poised to further ease marijuana laws

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. AP Photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced interest in permitting the use, sale and distribution of legalized marijuana in the state.

Starting off his 2014 policy agenda, Cuomo announced a proposed plan that would grant a limited number of New York hospitals to disseminate medicinal marijuana to patients suffering from serious and grave illnesses.  

(Check out an op-ed on this subject by Raanan Geberer.)

Cuomo’s announcement comes a few days after the state of Colorado implemented its new law allowing for the less restrictive recreational use of the drug statewide. Unlike the case of Colorado, Cuomo noted he is against legislation to legalize, regulate and tax recreational use of the drug.

New York’s measure is not the first of the tri-state area. In fact, New Jersey currently allows the drug to be used for medicinal purposes. However, the heavy restrictions on obtaining a valid prescription almost voids New Jersey’s marijuana program. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia allow for the legal use of the drug in one form or another.

While the medicinal use of the drug is making headway, New York has also been inching toward the decriminalization of marijuana possession. Currently, private possession of marijuana is a violation, not a crime,  with a maximum fine of $100 for the first offense.

Public display of marijuana is a misdemeanor. In 2011, the former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued a memo to correct that discrepancy. Kelly reminded police officers that "[a] crime will not be charged to an individual who is requested or compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marijuana," during stops and frisks that require individuals to remove items from their pockets or open their bags that would put marijuana that was otherwise concealed in the public view.

"Too many young people of color are being arrested for low-level drug charges that leave a permanent stain on their records for what should be a violation,” then-candidate Ken Thompson — Brooklyn’s new district attorney — said in a June 2013 statement response to a report that black people in Brooklyn and Manhattan are almost 10 times more likely than white people to be arrested on low-level marijuana possession charge.

"Brooklyn's growing racial disparity in marijuana arrests is a wake-up call for comprehensive reform," Thompson said.

In response to questions about the plan for medicinal marijuana, Cuomo refused to give reporters details Monday on how he would use his administrative powers — rather than legislative action — to phase in use of the drug. Cuomo has said that bypassing the legislature with a limited program will give his administration greater control over the initiative if it needs adjustment

Cuomo has previously opposed legalized medical marijuana, and it is unclear what motivated him to shift his policy beliefs. Cuomo will formally announce his plans in his State of the State speech on Wednesday.

January 7, 2014 - 8:00am


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