New York lawmakers pushed through a marijuana legalization measure Tuesday that backers say will expunge the felony drug records of tens of thousands of people, reports NPR. A study of pot busts made last year by the NYPD found 94 percent of those arrested were Black or Hispanic. Another study found that Black and brown people nationally remain three times more likely to be arrested for pot possession compared with white people and that marijuana arrests have actually risen in recent years in more than a dozen states. In states where marijuana sales have gone legit, people of color who were once part of the industry are also often excluded from the legal market by heavy competition, strict regulations and unaffordable operating expenses. Many people of color are forced to continue buying illegally from a parallel black market and increasing their risk of arrest and prosecution. New York’s legislation was designed to avoid this kind of racial inequity by providing investment capital to help people of color transition into the legal pot business and allowing people to apply for “social equity” dispensary licenses.
Meanwhile, a total of 15 states and the District of Columbia have now taken the step to legalize, with the Associated Press reporting that adults in Virginia could legally possess and grow small amounts of marijuana beginning in July, about three years sooner than initially envisioned. The governor’s amendments would allow adults 21 and up to legally possess up to one ounce (28.3 grams) of cannabis without the intent to distribute beginning July 1. They would also allow the home cultivation of up to four plants per household beginning July 1. Northam’s amendments would maintain current public safety measures that prohibit smoking marijuana while driving and possession of marijuana on school grounds.