By Olivia Belanger

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has signed legislation to further decriminalize marijuana in the state.

The legislation will treat possession of less than one ounce as a violation subject to a $50 fine and possession of between one to two ounces, currently a misdemeanor, will become a violation punishable by up to a $200 fine. Possession of more than two ounces still will be considered a crime.

Also under the bill, signed on July 29, smoking marijuana in public, currently a misdemeanor, will be a violation.

According to the governor's news release, the legislation will make marijuana enforcement "fairer and more equitable" by not only reducing the penalties, but removing criminal penalties for possession of marijuana under two ounces.

Data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services stated there were 13,537 misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests statewide in 2018. These charges were the lowest level of marijuana possession reported to the state, excluding violations.

In 2017, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties had 66 total felony and misdemeanor marijuana arrests, according to data from Fifty-four of those arrests were considered misdemeanors, though the amount of marijuana possessed was not listed.

Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen M. O'Neill said her office doesn't have an opinion on this law, or any others.

"As laws change, and they change drastically and frequently, we enforce them as they are written," Sheriff O'Neill said.

From a local health perspective, there is some worry.

Stephen A. Jennings, public health planner for the Jefferson County Public Health Service, said this law could potentially further increase use of recreational marijuana

"While decriminalization will very likely yield substantial criminal justice system cost savings, it is unclear, given growing public acceptance of marijuana, what the true public health implications will be," Mr. Jennings said.

(c)2019 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)