Cuomo signs bill legalizing recreational marijuana in New York

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New York joins over a dozen other states that have legalized cannabis

(Photo by Getty Images)

ALBANY, N.Y. (WROC) — It’s official: Marijuana is legal in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law Wednesday morning. The legislation was passed by the New York State Assembly and Senate on Tuesday.

According to the governor’s office, the legislation, known formally as S.854-A/A.1248-A:

  • Establishes the Office of Cannabis Management
  • Expands New York’s existing Medical Marijuana Program
  • Establishes a licensing system
  • Creates a Social and Economic Equity Program encouraging individuals disproportionately impacted by cannabis enforcement to participate in industry
  • Tax collection projected to reach $350 million annually and potentially create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs

“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 Wednesday in a statement, adding that the legislation was one of his “top priorities.”

After years of attempts, New York’s lawmakers voted to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. 

New York will join more than a dozen other states that have legalized cannabis, including neighboring New Jersey. The state Senate and Assembly hashed out final details in a Tuesday debate. It passed the Senate with a party-line 40-23 vote and the Assembly with a 100-49 vote.

New Yorkers won’t be able to immediately purchase marijuana; the state still needs to set up rules around sales and a proposed cannabis board. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes estimated Friday that it could take 18 months to two years for sales to start.

Marijuana sales could bring the state, reeling from the monetary impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, about $350 million annually. 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 additional tax based on the level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, ranging from 0.5 cents per milligram for flower to 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

Money from sales could also be used to help the communities disproportionately impacted by years of unequal police enforcement of marijuana laws, said Sen. Liz Krueger, Senate sponsor of the bill and chair of the Senate’s finance committee.

“New York’s program will not just talk the talk on racial justice,” Kreuger said. “It will walk the walk: ending the racially disparate enforcement that was endemic to prohibition, automatically expunging the records of those who were caught up in the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ and channeling 40% of the revenue back into the most hard-hit communities.”

The bill would also:

  • Eliminate penalties for possession of less than three ounces of cannabis, and automatically expunge records of people with past convictions for marijuana-related offenses that would no longer be criminalized. 
  • Set up 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.
  • Allow individual New Yorkers to grow up to three mature and three immature plants for personal consumption
  • Let local governments opt out of retail sales.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the bill also supports social equity, enhances education and protects public safety.

“Today, New York stepped up and took transformative action to end the prohibition of adult-use marijuana,” said Stewart-Cousins. “This legislation is a momentous first step in addressing the racial disparities caused by the war on drugs that has plagued our state for too long.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the legislation will end what he called “decades of disproportionately targeting people of color under state and federal drug laws.” 

“My colleagues and I knew it was important to do this the right way — in a way that would include those targeted and frequently excluded from the process,” Heastie said. “Now, this legal industry will create jobs across our state, including for those who have had their lives upended by years of unjust drug laws.”

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, calling the legislation a social justice initiative, said it will be transformative for “disenfranchised communities of color.”

“I believe this bill can serve as a blue print for future states seeking inclusive cannabis legalization,” she said. “I would be remiss not to thank all of my family, colleagues, advocates and supporters over eight long years.”

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