A legislative effort to reduce marijuana arrests by decriminalizing possession that is in “public view” appears to have failed in New York. The bill had passed the Democratic controlled State Assembly after being recently endorsed by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), but it failed to get a vote in the Republican controlled State Senate. From the New York Times:
The demise of the proposal came amid a last-minute push to tie up loose ends before the close of the session, which is scheduled to conclude on Thursday. All legislative seats are on the ballot in the elections this year, and Republican senators have pointedly refused to take up several issues that are avidly sought by Democrats in the Assembly but that might upset conservatives, including the marijuana bill and a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage.
In private discussions about the marijuana bill, Senate Republicans raised concerns about the amount of marijuana that Mr. Cuomo’s bill would have allowed people to possess in public without being charged with a misdemeanor — 25 grams. By one calculation, that would produce 63 marijuana cigarettes — one for each member of the Senate next year, as a Republican senator joked at a discussion of the proposal.
The failure of this bill is a disappointing setback for the marijuana reform movement. It will likely mean that tens thousands of primarily young African-Americans and Latinos will be arrested this year in New York for simple possession of marijuana, wasting the State millions of dollars.
Its failure this round, though, is not completely unexpected. Governor Coumo only come out in support of the measure two weeks ago. That was towards the very end of this particular legislative session and only months out from the election. That gave activists relatively little time to build popular support and gave legislators only a brief window to work on it this session to try to come up with possible compromises. Several other pending issues took up much of the legislature’s final few days in session.
The prospects for a similar marijuana decriminalization bill next year look much better. Now the issue has the backing of the governor, it is much more likely to be brought up and aggressively pushed in future sessions. With more time for the legislature to debate the issue, likely a new mix of representatives elected and continued growing popular support for marijuana reform, conditions should be more favorable next year.