So Much For Andrew Cuomo's Pot Decriminalization Plan

andrew cuomo
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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks in Albany, New York.
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If you had grand plans to flaunt your pot stash once Gov. Cuomo's proposed pot decriminalization goes into effect, you might want to hold off.

According to the New York Times, Cuomo's plan to downgrade public possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation appears to be DOA, thanks to GOP opposition and the approaching end of the legislative session. As Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos put it at the time the plan was announced, "Being able to just walk around with 10 joints in each ear, and it only be a violation, I think that’s wrong."

As I wrote earlier this month, Cuomo's proposal, which would bring laws for public and private possession into sync, would have cut down on controversial stop-and-frisk arrests. In New York City, the number of arrests for possession have skyrocketed – disproportionately among young black and Latino men – even though police officers will make the stops for unrelated reasons. Both New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said they supported the plan.

Skelos conceded there are problems with stop-and-frisk – "I think we can work on that," he said recently – he just doesn't think Cuomo's plan is the way to go.

But, because the legislative session ends Thursday, it looks like there won't be enough time to reach a compromise on the bill. The Times reports that Cuomo set Monday night as a hard deadline to introduce any new legislation, and though lawmakers worked through the weekend on several last-minute proposals, the marijuana bill was not one of them. It's not likely that it will be introduced before Thursday, since New York's Constitution requires a three-day waiting period in between the introduction of a bill and the vote, so that lawmakers and the public can review it.

All of this means that Cuomo would either have to call a special session for the pot bill, or wait until the legislature reconvenes for its new session in January.

"It's disappointing that the Legislature can't put politics aside when justice is on the line," New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in an emailed statement. "Arresting and jailing tens of thousands of people each year for marijuana possession does not make New York safer. It drives young New Yorkers into the criminal justice system. It strips young men of color of their dignity and saddles them with permanent criminal records. It corrupts trust between police and community members."

Gabriel Sayegh, New York's state director for the pro-liberalization Drug Policy Alliance, told the Times, "I’ve been working in Albany for almost 10 years, and I can’t recall a moment when law enforcement has said, ‘We want to have this changed,’ and the Republican Party leaders in the Senate and the Conservative Party are basically saying that they don’t want to do it.

"This is yet another example of how profoundly backwards and dysfunctional this place is."