NY Pot Bill Could Bring Higher Possession Threshold

Supporters of the proposal say that higher possession thresholds would help prevent people from getting wrapped up in the criminal justice system

A legislative proposal in New York would go further than states across the U.S. over how much marijuana a person could have before getting in trouble.

The bill, backed by a number of Democrats in both chambers, would allow people over 21 years old to have three ounces of marijuana. The standard, if approved, would set one of the most lenient marijuana possession thresholds in the nation.

Supporters of the proposal say that higher possession thresholds would help prevent people from getting wrapped up in the criminal justice system.

A competing proposal from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo would only permit people to have one ounce of marijuana. Dispensaries under that plan would be allow to sell one ounce of marijuana per person on a daily basis.

States across the nation have legalized marijuana, but many cap legal possession at one ounce, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The possession threshold is one of a myriad of differences between Cuomo's plan and the legislative proposal, which is sponsored by by Sen. Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

One big issue that could hold up legalization again this year is how the state will spend money from marijuana sales.

Marijuana legalization in New York could eventually bring in $300 million in annual revenues, according to a Cuomo estimate released last year.

Cuomo’s proposal says marijuana revenue would be deposited in a state cannabis fund to be spent on everything from administration, to substance abuse treatment, public health education, to research on cannabis uses. His administration says they don’t want to require specific amounts go to certain areas because they want flexibility as the industry grows and changes.

Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and other legislative Democratic leaders have said they want more specific assurance that revenues will go to communities negatively impacted by enforcement of drug laws.

Peoples-Stokes said Tuesday that she has been in regular conversations with the governor's office on marijuana legalization.

The Democrat, who represents Buffalo, signaled she will not support the proposal if marijuana revenue is not diverted to communities affected by the drug's prohibition.

“And I know that he probably will try to make sure that there are resources invested in communities of color that have been (disaffected.) But quite honestly, he's not governor for life,” she said. “There could be another governor in five years.”

Peoples-Stokes said there are now more New Yorkers and lawmakers who see the value of legalizing the drug. Her plan recently received the support of Sen. Pete Harckham, a Democrat who represents a swath of the Hudson Valley.

Support from Democrats in moderate districts like Harckham's could be key as legislators push to legalize recreational marijuana.

Meanwhile, a recent Siena College poll found 58% of respondents supported legalizing recreational marijuana use. The poll involved 814 registered voters in New York and was conducted by telephone Jan. 11-16. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Besides revenue, there are differences on what violations and criminal statutes will look if the drug is made legal.

Under the plan included in Cuomo's budget, people caught smoking marijuana in public place could face a fine of $125 fine.

People could face a misdemeanor if they have more than two ounces of marijuana under the governor's plan. But under the legislative proposal, people found with more than three ounces of marijuana could receive a violation and face a fine of $125.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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