Budding New York pot proposal goes up in smoke, but may rise from ashes

In early June, New York governor Andrew Cuomo put forth a novel proposition: decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public throughout the state. Being caught in public with 25 grams or less of pot is currently a class B misdemeanor in New York, punishable by up to 90 days in jail. Individuals convicted of publicly possessing a small amount of marijuana also face a permanent mark on their record, which could affect future employment prospects.

Under Cuomo's proposal, public possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana would become a "violation," which is not technically a criminal offense and carries only a fine. Initially, the governor garnered wide support from local politicians and even New York City's police commissioner. Ultimately, however, the Republican-dominated State Senate defeated the decriminalization measure. Even so, with marijuana legalization increasingly springing up across the country, it may be only a matter of time before Cuomo's proposal is resurrected.

Reasons Behind the Decriminalization Efforts

In 2011, New York City police made 50,684 arrests for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Low-level marijuana offenses accounted for more arrests than any other crime: one in seven arrests made in New York City last year were for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Proponents of Governor Cuomo's decriminalization measure claim that these arrests take a disparate toll on young men in predominantly black and Latino neighbors. The Bloomberg administration's NYPD "stop-and-frisk" policy results in many young individuals being stopped by police and asked to empty their pockets, leading to what some lawmakers call "needless" arrests for small amounts of marijuana. These marijuana arrests can result in charges that make it more difficult to secure a job - particularly in a tough economy. Considering the huge number of marijuana arrests made in New York City, the effect on entire neighborhoods can be significant.

As an added bonus, proponents claim decriminalization would save enormous law enforcement resources that are currently being used to prosecute what is, all things considered, a minor offense.

Decriminalization Advocates Aren't Done in New York

There is little doubt that American attitudes are changing when it comes to marijuana use and the efficacy of current drug policies. According to Gallup's latest annual crime survey conducted October 6-9, 50 percent of U.S. adults support marijuana legalization, while only 46 percent oppose it. In the November 6 election, voters in two states - Washington and Colorado - approved the legalization of recreational marijuana.

While marijuana decriminalization failed this time in New York, it's unlikely the proposition is off the table for good, or even for long.

"Many of the large issues, social issues, they don't happen over a period of weeks," said Governor Cuomo in a speech to reporters about his marijuana bill. "It takes a period of months, sometimes a period of years."

Even Senate Republicans who blocked the bill - all of them white, and most of them from suburban or rural districts, areas where government crime data shows only one in ten of the state's marijuana arrests take place - are not taking a hard-line stance against returning to marijuana discussions. Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader, told the New York Times it was possible the Senate would revisit the marijuana issue next year, and denied that he felt any political pressure to block the decriminalization bill.

It may only be a matter of time until public marijuana possession is no longer a crime in New York. But, until that time comes, a marijuana conviction can have serious implications for your future; if you have been arrested for marijuana possession, you should protect your rights by contacting an experienced New York criminal defense attorney.