New York Lawmakers Agree To Legalize Recreational Marijuana

by Jeremy

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Lawmakers reached an agreement late Saturday to legalize recreational marijuana sales in New York.

At least 14 other states already allow residents to buy marijuana for recreational and not just medical use, but New York’s past efforts to pass marijuana legalization have failed in recent years. Democrats who now wield a veto-proof majority in the state Legislature have given it a priority this year, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has estimated legalization could eventually bring the state about $350 million annually.

“My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities,” Sen. Liz Krueger, Senate sponsor of the bill and chair of the Senate’s finance committee, said.

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A man opens the door of the Weed World Store in New York City on Thursday. New York State has reached a deal to legalize recreational marijuana use and opened a way for an almost $4.2 billion industry that could create thousands of jobs.

The legislation would allow recreational marijuana sales to adults over the age of 21 and set up a licensing process to deliver cannabis products to customers. Individual New Yorkers could grow up to three mature and three immature plants for personal consumption, and local governments could opt out of retail sales.

If passed, the legislation would take effect immediately, though sales wouldn’t start immediately as New York sets up rules and a proposed cannabis board. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes estimated Friday it could take 18 months to two years for sales to start.

Adam Goers, a vice president of Columbia Care, a New York medical marijuana provider that’s interested in getting into the recreational market, said New York’s proposed system would “ensure newcomers have a crack at the marketplace” alongside the state’s existing medical marijuana providers.

“There’s a big pie in which a lot of different folks are going to be able to be a part of it,” Goers said.

People are seen demonstrating in 2019 outside the New York governor's office in Manhattan in support of regulating marijuana.

People are seen demonstrating in 2019 outside the New York governor’s office in Manhattan to support regulating marijuana.

New York would set a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and local government. It would also impose an extra tax based on the level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, ranging from 0.5 cents per milligram for flowers to 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

New York would eliminate penalties for possession of fewer than three ounces of cannabis and automatically delete records of people with past convictions for marijuana-related offenses that would no longer be criminalized. That’s a step beyond a 2019 law that expunged many past convictions for marijuana possession and reduced the penalty for possessing small amounts.

And New York would provide loans, grants, and incubator programs to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by people from minority communities, as well as small farmers, women, and disabled veterans.

Proponents have said the move could create thousands of jobs and begin to address the racial injustice of a decades-long drug war that disproportionately targeted minority and poor communities.

“Police, prosecutors, child services and ICE have used criminalization as a weapon against them, and the impact this bill will have on the lives of our oversurveiled clients cannot be overstated,” Alice Fontier, managing director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said in a statement Saturday.

New York’s Legal Aid Society also hailed the agreement. “This landmark legislation brings justice to New York State by ending prohibition, expunging conviction records that have curtailed the opportunities of countless predominately young Black and Latinx New Yorkers, and delivers economic justice to ensure that communities who have suffered the brunt of aggressive and disparate marijuana enforcement are first in line to reap the economic gain,” the group said in a news release Sunday. Melissa Moore, the Drug Policy Alliance’s director for New York state, said the bill “really puts a nail in the coffin of the drug war that’s been so devastating to communities across New York, and puts in place comprehensive policies that are grounded in community reinvestment.”

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