By Victoria Falk
Just a few months after New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed legislation on March 31, 2021, legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults in New York State, Senator Chuck Schumer is pushing forward to propose federal decriminalization of marijuana.
Effective March 31, 2021, the new law allowed adults aged 21-years-old and over to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for recreational use or 24 grams of concentrated forms of the drug. Also, people with certain marijuana-related convictions became eligible to have their records expunged immediately. While the new law drew criticism from New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who was concerned about the long-term effects and impact that legalizing marijuana would have on crime, many community leaders and local politicians supported the new law.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s proposal to decriminalize marijuana use on a federal level is still in draft form, and he hopes to gain support among other Democrats and lawmakers. Schumer’s proposal moves beyond the recent law, which legalized recreational marijuana use on a state level, to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.
Senator Schumer hopes to accomplish this by having marijuana removed from the list of federally controlled substances. Schumer addressed the press, “…this is going to be a process…I don’t have the votes necessary at this point, but we have a large majority of our caucus for it.” According to public polls reported by the press, 60% of Americans say recreational and medical marijuana use should be legalized. In comparison, 31% of Americans suggest only medical marijuana use should be legalized, and the others who were surveyed indicated that marijuana use should not be legalized.
Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act
On July 14, 2021, Senator Chuck Schumer and Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon announced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. The Act, if passed, removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and allows states to determine their cannabis laws, similar to the way alcohol is federally regulated. Currently, 37 states within the United States have already decriminalized marijuana, with 18 states having completely legalized marijuana.
If passed, “…the legislation would not only decriminalize marijuana but also expunge nonviolent marijuana-related arrests and convictions from federal records. It would also allocate new tax revenue which would come from marijuana sales and businesses would have the freedom to sell marijuana without the risk of federal punishment.” Furthermore, the proposal to decriminalize marijuana on a federal level is seen as aiding in the discussion of criminal justice reform. A disproportionate number of Black and Brown people were affected by arrests due to marijuana possession. The bill also calls for investing money into restorative justice programs in Black and Brown neighborhoods.
According to released statements concerning the bill, “By ending the failed federal prohibition of cannabis, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act will ensure that Americans, especially Black and Brown Americans, no longer have to fear arrest or be barred from public housing. Also, there will be no prohibitions to federal financial aid for higher education for using cannabis in states where it is legal.”
Maritza Perez, a supporter of the bill from the Drug Policy Alliance, stated, “Congress is finally catching up with where the general public has long been. Meanwhile, those who are convicted of marijuana-related offenses face life-altering consequences, making it hard to get a job and receive public benefits.” While those opposed to the bill, including President Joe Biden, stand firm in their views. “I’ve spoken in the past about the president’s views on marijuana. Nothing has changed, and there are no new endorsements of legislation today, “said Jen Psaki, White House Spokesman. Senator Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, and Ron Wyden continue to seek support for the proposed bill to decriminalize marijuana on a federal level.
Marijuna Amnesty and Immigrants
New York’s legislation allows adults, age 21-years-old and over, to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for recreational use or 24 grams of concentrated forms of the drug. People with certain marijuana-related convictions will have their records expunged immediately. This is a big deal for people who may have previously had limited access to employment due to a criminal record or those who feared that a marijuana-related conviction would negatively affect their immigration status. New York’s leading Immigration expert, Brian Figeroux, founding partner of the Law Firm of Figeroux and Associates and Ask the Lawyer Radio Program, warns immigrants that even though the Governor is offering “…amnesty for those of you convicted of marijuana possessions, you still have to do a New York post-conviction Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) 440 motion hearing in New York State to reverse the charge. Immigration court would not recognize that amnesty. They will still look at the crime for your conviction on any drug marijuana-related issues. You are inadmissible if you have more than one marijuana charge. You need to talk to a lawyer if you want to get your Green Card or become a U.S. citizen. You must speak to an attorney to determine if you qualify for amnesty and whether your case qualifies for a 440 Motion to vacate the judgment. If your case qualifies for a 440 motion hearing, your legalization gets back on track for your Green Card or to become a U.S. citizen.”