New York is latest state to legalize recreational marijuana |

New York is latest state to legalize recreational marijuana

Updated: March 31, 2021 04:38 PM
Created: March 31, 2021 11:07 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP/WHEC) — New Yorkers can now possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis under a legalization bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, while sales of recreational-use marijuana won’t become legal for an estimated 18 months until the state draws up regulations.

Advocates for criminal justice reform hope it will also help redress the inequities of a system that has locked up people of color for marijuana offenses at disproportionate rates. The legislation provides protections for cannabis users in the workplace, housing, family court and in schools, colleges and universities, and sets a target of providing half of marijuana licenses to individuals from underrepresented communities.

New York will start automatically expunging the criminal records of individuals with certain past marijuana-related convictions, and law enforcement in the state won’t be able to arrest or prosecute individuals for possession of marijuana up to 3 ounces. That’s a step beyond a 2019 law that expunged many past convictions for marijuana possession and reduced the penalty for possessing small amounts.

The law also allows “using, smoking, ingesting or consuming cannabis or concentrated cannabis.” New Yorkers can’t smoke or vape cannabis in locations prohibited by state law, including workplaces, colleges and universities, hospitals and within 100 feet of a school.

New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea said his interpretation of the bill is that it makes smoking marijuana in public legal.
“We worry about what it means for New Yorkers and us looking at this bill - I hope I’m missing something - but it appears that it’s legalizing the smoking of marijuana outside,” Shea said. "And that’s not something that most other states did.”

While the marketplace will take a while to set up, estimates by the trade publication Marijuana Business Daily show New York could become the largest on the East Coast - generating a potential $2.3 billion in annual sales by its fourth year.

Cuomo said it could take years to collect about $300 million in tax revenues, though Republicans are skeptical the state will see that much. California was forced to cut $223 million from state budget projections in 2019 due to slower-than-expected pot sales.

Tax revenues from marijuana would first cover the state's cost of regulating and enforcing the marijuana legalization law, with the remainder divided among schools, drug treatment and prevention programs and a fund for investing in job skills, adult education, mental health and other services in communities that bore the brunt of the national and state drug war.

New York will set a 9% sales tax on cannabis plus an additional 4% county and local tax and another tax based on the level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

The state will 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.

“Fifty percent is a very high bar to try to reach, but if it happens, it would be amazing,” said Hillary Peckham, chief operator of Etain Health, a women-owned New York medical cannabis company that is considering applying for a recreational marijuana license if it becomes legal. 

“The next step is to see how the regulations and the program are stood up to actually provide those opportunities,” added Peckham, whose company has four dispensaries around the state.

Social equity emerged as a key theme in marijuana legalization in recent years, with newly legal states trying to build it in

Monroe County's Black and Asian Democratic Caucus sent the following statement on the decision:

"Today, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana for adults in New York State. This important legislation will allow us to push for relief to those who have previously been impacted by the laws that have disproportionately harmed poorer communities in Monroe County. A portion of the bill expunges the criminal records of those who have been convicted of possessing marijuana. This is one of the most impactful advancements in serving justice to those who have been victims of discriminatory policing. Previous laws and regulations have contributed to the mass incarceration of black and brown individuals further inhibiting them from accessing housing, employment opportunities, and other vital services. 

"This momentous legislation would expand and promote economic progress for black and brown communities that had been impacted by previous regulations. The tax revenues from the sale of recreational marijuana can be used to devise and implement comprehensive programs aimed to promote equity and justice.  

"We thank Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature for passing this impactful legislation. We look forward to upholding it."

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