New York lawmakers reach agreement to legalise recreational marijuana

Bill to be voted on this week and if passed would have immediate effect, but sales won’t begin for some time

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Sunday 28 March 2021 16:44
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New York lawmakers have reached an agreement to legalise the sale of recreational marijuana in the state.

A bill will come before the NY state assembly and state senate next week. At least 14 other US states have already passed laws allowing residents to buy marijuana for recreational and not just medical use.

Previous efforts in New York have failed, but Democrats now hold a veto-proof majority in the state legislature in Albany and made it a priority piece of legislation this year.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office estimates that state revenue could be as much as $350m (£254m) annually.

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When passed, the legislation would allow recreational marijuana sales to adults over the age of 21, and set up a licensing process for the delivery of cannabis products to customers.

Individual New Yorkers could grow up to three mature and three immature plants for personal consumption, and local governments could opt out of retail sales.

While the law would take effect immediately, sales would not as rules will still need to be set up as well as a proposed cannabis board.

On Friday, assembly majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stoke said it could take 18 months to two years for sales to start.

Democratic state senator Liz Krueger, the sponsor of the bill and chair of the finance committee, was motivated by the prospect of righting injustices caused by previous rules regarding marijuana.

“My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of colour across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalisation to help heal and repair those same communities,” she said.

A 9 per cent sales tax on cannabis would be set by the state, plus an additional 4 per cent 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 flowers to 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

New York would also eliminate penalties for possession of less than three ounces of cannabis. The records of those with past convictions that would no longer be criminalised will automatically be expunged — a step beyond a 2019 law that expunged many past convictions for marijuana possession and reduced the penalty for possessing small amounts.

Further, the state would 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.

Previous legalisation efforts have failed due to concerns from suburban Democrats, opposition from law enforcement and school groups, and the question of how to address the problem of driving while high – a study has been commissioned.

However, many of these concerns are being addressed with funding from new taxes and the experience of other states that led the way with legalisation.

Governor Cuomo has pointed to the growing acceptance of legalisation in the northeast, including in Massachusetts, Maine and, most recently, New Jersey.

The bill allows cities, towns and villages to opt out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses. They cannot opt out of legalisation.

With reporting from the Associated Press

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