New York State lawmakers have given the green light for legalized marijuana possession and paved the way to allow for marijuana sales to people over the age of 21.
Late on Tuesday, March 30, the New York State Senate voted 40-23 in favor of the new bill, while the Assembly approved it by a margin of 100-49.
The bill was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk to sign following the approval by both Houses, which he did on Wednesday, March 31, making the law official.
With Cuomo's approval, possession becomes legal immediately for those age 21 and over.
The bill does not specify a date when legal marijuana sales can begin in the state, it's expected to take many months, or even a full year for the necessary measures to be put in place.
“New York has a storied history of being the progressive capital of the nation, and this important legislation will once again carry on that legacy,” Cuomo said in a statement shortly after the bill passed both Houses. “I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”
Under the final legislation, New Yorkers will be permitted to carry up to three ounces of marijuana, which will have a 13 percent sales tax. Those tax revenues will then be broken up, with nine percent going to the state, and four percent to local municipalities.
The law will expunge the record of people with previous convictions for possession, and it will be legal for New Yorkers to grow marijuana at home, with a limit of three mature plans for adults and six plants per household.
“For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences,” Cuomo added. “After years of hard work, this landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public.”
According to the bill, New York will seek to have 50 percent of marijuana licenses go to underrepresented communities, and it will provide protection for people from being discriminated against for marijuana use in public housing, schools and colleges, and the workplace.
The legislation will create the Office of Cannabis Management, which will regulate the sale and distribution of both recreational and medical marijuana, which was legalized in 2014. A five-member board will lead the office with three members appointed by the governor and one appointed by each house of the legislature
“The legalization of marijuana is a racial and criminal justice imperative, and today's vote is a critical step towards a fairer and more just system," New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. "For too long, people of color have been disproportionately impacted by an outdated and shortsighted marijuana prohibition, and it's past time we right this wrong.
“We must also engineer an economy that will provide a much-needed boost to communities devastated by the war on drugs and COVID-19, and I am hopeful this will help to achieve that for New Yorkers.”
For years, Cuomo’s administration sought to legalize cannabis, which could eventually bring in upwards of $350 million annually for the state.
"This law comprehensively addresses the harms of overcriminalization and establishes one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization programs in the nation,” Melissa Moore, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance said. "Through this sweeping legislation, New York is delivering reforms that place community reinvestment, social equity, and justice at the core of the law.”
New York is the 16th state to legalize marijuana, joining neighboring Massachusetts and New Jersey.
“New York will lead the nation in legalizing adult-use marijuana in a way that is responsive to the massive problems generated by criminalization,” David R. Jones, President, and CEO of the Community Service Society said.
“For years, advocates have been calling for a significant portion of marijuana tax revenue to be reinvested in the communities that have disproportionately borne the worst of the arrest crusade and are now doubly impacted by COVID-19 deaths, job losses, and business closures.”
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who sponsored the bill, likened the passage of the bill to when alcohol became legal again in New York.
“While it did take a lot of time, we’re making it happen today,” she said. “Today we are reversing 90 years of prohibition.
"The last time New York State did anything like this is when we were removing the prohibition from alcohol: that was in 1933,” she added. “Here we are in 2021 — almost 100 years of prohibition on marijuana — and we’re removing it.”
Complete details of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act can be found here.
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