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New marijuana law hopes to address racial disparities in arrests

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A New York State law decriminalizing marijuana went into effect Wednesday, one month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill.

The law will allow anyone caught with up to two ounces to pay a fine, instead of being arrested. Transporting, growing or selling pot remain offenses for which a person can be arrested.

In a statement released Wednesday, Cuomo said, “Today is a new chapter in the criminal justice system.” He went on to call the law “long overdue” and the effort would go far in mending the racially discriminatory criminal justice process.

Credit Jack Porcari
Western New York NORML Executive Director Jack Porcari

Another area of the law will expunge the records for anyone with low-level marijuana arrests by July 2020.

NORML is a national organization dedicated to marijuana reform. Jack Porcari, Executive Director of their Western New York chapter, said although decriminalization laws have been on the books in the state since the late 1970s, too many people have had their lives ruined for something as simple as a possession charge. Porcari said the state is doing the right thing.

“I really think this is a positive step for New York,” he said. “A lot of people were disappointed about the attempt at legalization, but I think this is a really key effort towards that.”

In Buffalo, according to the Partnership for the Public Good, a person of color is seven times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana related offense. Porcari hopes the law continues to address the racial disparities these arrests.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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