The legislation, which is currently in the New York Senate Finance Committee, will allow all adults over 21 to purchase marijuana for recreational use. Any adult New Yorker will also be allowed to grow up to three mature and three immature plants for personal use.
The state will ditch all penalties for possession of less than three ounces of cannabis, and expunge the criminal records of people previously convicted over offenses that are no longer considered criminal. Possession and use of pot by minors will still be illegal, but it is not exactly clear what penalties such an offense would carry.
New York will also set up a licensing process for cannabis deliveries to customers. Pot sales in the state are expected to get a 9% tax on cannabis, and an additional 4% tax that will be split between counties and local governments. More taxes could also be slapped on the level of THC, an active ingredient in marijuana, ranging between 0.5 cents per milligram for flowers and three cents per milligram for edibles.
Individual cities, towns, and villages within the state can still ban adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses, but cannot opt out of legalization altogether. The sale of marijuana will hardly begin overnight, anyway, since the state will first need to establish rules and set up a cannabis board. New York’s state assembly majority leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, estimated on Friday that this process could take between 18 months and two years.
The Democratic administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo has already estimated that pot legalization could bring the state some $ 350 million annually. Democrats, who currently wield a veto-proof majority in the New York legislature, have made the passing of the bill a priority for this year. They have presented it not just an economic boost for the state, but a blow to racial injustice as well.
“My goal … 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,” said Senator Liz Krueger, the head of the finance committee, who sponsored the bill.
The initiative immediately earned praise from some NGOs, who hailed it as another step in the fight against discrimination of minorities. “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,” New York’s Legal Aid Society said, adding that those who had faced “aggressive and disparate marijuana enforcement” should be the first to reap the benefits of “economic justice.”
The state already plans to provide loans, grants, and incubator programs for minority communities, women, and disabled veterans to “encourage” them to join the yet-to-be-legalized industry.
Not everyone was apparently thrilled by the upcoming pot legalization, however. A group of organizations, including the Medical Society of the State of NY, the New York State Parent Teacher Association, and the New York Sheriff’s Association, penned an open letter arguing that the legalization of marijuana would only exacerbate existing problems.
“We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the serious crisis of youth vaping and the continuing opioid epidemic, this harmful legislation is counterintuitive,” the letter said. So far, the state plans to address the use of cannabis by youth through an anti-vaping, drug awareness and prevention program.
New York will certainly not be the first US state to legalize pot, with at least 14 other states already having done so, at least partially. In late February, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill legalizing the drug’s use by adults and allowing a recreational marijuana marketplace.
In November 2020, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota each passed measures liberalizing their cannabis laws. At the same time, Oregon went one step further and decriminalized possession of all drugs, including small amounts of such hard street narcotics as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.
Still, marijuana remains illegal at the national level – and President Joe Biden’s administration is apparently in no rush to relax these rules, at least when it comes to White House staff. Just last week, it was reported that dozens of White House employees were asked to resign or join a “remote work program” after admitting to past marijuana use.
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