New York Bill Would Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

ALBANY, NY. (Dec. 19, 2017) – A bill introduced in the New York Senate would decriminalize marijuana possession. Passage into law would take another step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in effect in the state.

Introduced by Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), Senate Bill 7013 (S7013) would “ensure that laws are enforced equally and fairly and do not result in a disparate impact on people because of their race or ethnicity” by making “unlawful possession of marihuana… a violation punishable only by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars.” Criminal possession of larger amounts of marijuana would still be prosecuted under the bill.

“We have all acknowledged that these marijuana possession arrests were unjust and discriminatory, but we must also act to repair the harm that’s been done. We can no longer stand by while ineffective and failed drug policies continue to unnecessarily burden our families and communities,” Rivera said, according to a Daily Chronic report.

The legislation would also give the courts leeway to give clemency to marijuana offenders, a move that would ease the overcrowding of prisons because of the war on drugs. S7013 reads in part:

Notwithstanding the limitations set forth in this subdivision, the court may order that all proceedings be suspended and the action adjourned in contemplation of dismissal based upon a finding of exceptional circumstances. For purposes of this subdivision, exceptional circumstances exist when, regardless of the ultimate disposition of the case, the entry of a plea of guilty is likely to result in severe collateral consequences, including, but not limited to, those that could leave a noncitizen inadmissible or deportable from the United States.

A companion bill (A667) has been introduced in the House.

Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as S7013 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.

LEGALITY

Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the feds maintain complete prohibition of cannabis. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

Decriminalization of marijuana in New York would remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, New York essentially sweeps away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

New York has already legalized medical marijuana. Passage of S7013 would further ignore federal prohibition, and nullify it in practice in the state. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalized recreational cannabis, with California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joining them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states last November.

With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.

“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

WHAT’S NEXT?

S7013 was referred to the Senate Codes Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.

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