The Decriminalization of Marijuana Does Little to Benefit Minorities

By Erin Telesford

The Decriminalization of Marijuana Does Little to Benefit Minorities

Federal and state laws regulating legal medical marijuana drug use (Illustration: shutterstock)

To the dismay of many New York citizens, the proposal for the legislation of recreational use of marijuana has stalled after Senate Democrats failed to support the bill. Instead of allowing those over the age of twenty-one to use the drug recreationally, the decriminalization of marijuana has only diminished the price of the offence. Those who are caught in possession of the drug will only have to pay a fine of $50, $200 if they are carrying over an ounce of marijuana.

The hundreds of thousands in New York who have been institutionalized in the past due to the previous, harsher law are also able to have their records “expunged.” However, according to “… the fact is that in the state of New York, you cannot expunge your criminal record.”

Expungement will allow a record to be permanently erased; however, that is not the case in New York law. Instead, your record can be hidden in the act of “sealing” your criminal records. A sealed criminal record will be “removed from the rap sheet sent to employers, and your fingerprints, palm prints and mug shots will all be destroyed.” Although it seems as if your record will be erased after these practices, it can still be viewed by specific people, including employers for certain jobs, parole or probation officers, the military if you enlist, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials, etc.

Expunging, or, more appropriately, sealing a criminal record for possession of marijuana is unfair to those who were arrested in the past for the offence, and disproportionately affects the lives of black people and other people of low income due to the well-known act of mass incarceration. There is no reason for people to still have to pay a fine if they are not doing something criminal. The most sensible option is to simply allow the sale and possession of it recreationally; but doing so would allow black people and other low-income minorities to have the ability for business opportunities or a revenue stream to be directed toward communities that have been disproportionately impacted by past enforcement, as advocates had previously envisioned.

Amendments and lobbying could be blamed for the failure of legalization. Businesses, investors, private prisons and many more organizations led by white people can see that once the drug is legalized, it could unleash a monsoon of opportunities for minorities and people who have been most impacted by the laws against marijuana. Legalization will allow these people to get jobs and create businesses that are solely owned by white businessmen, creating competition. The best way to prevent this progression is to keep minorities and low-offence criminals from having the ability to remove past offences from their records, and keeping people from having the ability to gain entry into the marijuana business opportunities, which was achieved with the decriminalization of marijuana.

With regards to the recent legislation, Mr. Brian Figeroux, Esq. of the Law Firm of Figeroux & Associates, stated that “the most important aspect of the marijuana legislation is the fact that one, it is no longer a criminal violation if a person is caught with one ounce or less of marijuana and two, all previous records of marijuana charges will be expunged, meaning that all existing marijuana related charges will be completely eliminated.”  According to Mr. Figeroux, this is a good thing for undocumented immigrants who had any criminal records relating to marijuana.

On the other hand, if persons have two or more simple marijuana charges, they can be deemed inadmissible for a green card or not eligible for obtaining citizenship.

If you are an immigrant with any concerns about how this new legislation may impact your particular situation, call 855-768-8845 for a FREE consultation.

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