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Marijuana further decriminalized in New York

Many New Yorkers were hoping that the state's lawmakers would pass legislation that would generally make marijuana legal for personal use. Unfortunately, lawmakers couldn't decide how to go about that process -- so they opted for further decriminalization of marijuana instead.

The new bill, which is sitting on the governor's desk waiting on a signature, is widely expected to pass. Under the new laws, possession of up to one full ounce of marijuana would no longer be punishable with anything but a $50 fine, regardless of the defendant's prior criminal history. Possession of between one and two ounces is only punishable with a maximum fine of $200, never jail.

In 1977, New York had decriminalized possession of up to 25 grams (almost an ounce) of marijuana but legal loopholes still caught many defendants unaware. Those with a prior criminal record could receive jail time. So could anyone caught with the drug in public. Those traps for defendants have now been eliminated.

In addition, the new legislation means another thing for about 600,000 New Yorkers: expungement of their prior record. That could pave the way for a full-life transformation for those who have been held back from their life goals due to a minor marijuana possession charge. In essence, the new law will make minor possession of marijuana akin to a traffic ticket.

It's important for New Yorkers to understand that this new legislation doesn't erase all legal consequences of marijuana possession. If you are caught with more than two ounces, you still face serious charges. In addition, marijuana is still illegal on a federal level and can be prosecuted that way. If you find yourself or a loved one facing drug charges, make sure you have experienced assistance.

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