New York Daily News: ALBANY, NY — New York officially legalized weed Wednesday as Governor Cuomo signed legislation that will regulate the sale of recreational marijuana for adults and expunge the records of people previously convicted of possession.
Legislators approved the long-stalled measure late Tuesday, sending the bill allowing adults over 21 to use weed legally to the governor’s desk.
“This is a historic day in New York – one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I’m proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis.”
Officials say the marijuana market will eventually lead to as many as 60,000 new jobs and generate $350 million in revenue annually.
Adults over 21 will also be allowed to grow marijuana at home. It will be a while before legal sales begin or plants are allowed to grow as the newly-created Office of Cannabis Management is formed and finalizes rules and regulations. Most experts predict sales will start in late 2022 or early 2023.
Some parts of the law take effect immediately as anyone previously convicted of possessing an amount of marijuana now under the legal limit will automatically be subject to expungement and resentencing.
As of Wednesday, New Yorkers can legally possess less than 3 ounces of marijuana and consuming cannabis is permitted in public wherever smoking tobacco is allowed.
Law enforcement can no longer arrest or prosecute anyone for possession of pot under the three-ounce limit. A police officer can still use the odor of burning cannabis as a reason to suspect a driver is intoxicated, but can’t use that smell alone as justification for searching a car.
Once a marketplace is gearing up, the law allows for localities to opt-out of retail sales at the local level. It also sets a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and locality.
As far as tax revenue, the plan is to dedicate 40% of the funds to reinvestment in communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war, another 40% to schools and public education, and 20% to drug treatment, prevention and education.
Equity programs providing loans, grants, and incubator programs to ensure broad opportunities for participation in the new legal industry by people from disproportionately impacted communities as well as by small farmers will also be included.
“This social justice initiative will provide equity to positively transform disenfranchised communities of color for the better,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo). “I believe this bill can serve as a blueprint for future states seeking inclusive cannabis legalization.”
Advocates celebrated the repeal of pot prohibition and the ramifications it will have on minority communities most impacted by the war on drugs while law enforcement officials expressed reservations about the law.
“For decades, New York State’s racist war on marijuana ensnared thousands of our clients – nearly all of whom are from Black and Latinx communities – resulting in needless incarceration and a host of other devastating consequences that inevitably arise from contacts with the criminal legal system,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the criminal defense practice at The Legal Aid Society.
Supporters have fought for the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act for years, only to see it go up in smoke time and time again.
Melissa Moore, New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said a “new era for marijuana justice is here.”
“After years of hard work against long odds, New York has enacted one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization programs in the country,” she said. “By placing community reinvestment, social equity, and justice front and center, this law is the new gold standard for reform efforts nationwide.”
“It’s a significant shift,” Shea added. “You pass new laws and you always worry about what the unintended consequences are. I have no doubt that they think they are doing the right thing but these are some of the things I worry about and New Yorkers are worried about.”
Speaking on WPIX11, the commissioner noted that most other states that have legalized adult-use cannabis have still barred public consumption.
“Now it’s not going to be a police matter and that’s troubling,” Shea said. “I don’t know what we’re going to be telling New Yorkers when they call up and say there’s people smoking in front of my house or apartment building or I take my kids to a parade, whether it’s on Eastern Parkway or on Fifth Ave., and there are people smoking marijuana next to me as I try to enjoy the parade.”
- Top Feature Photo: A man smokes a joint – PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images