Published: Thu, April 01, 2021

NY lawmakers pass marijuana legalization, sending bill to governor

NY lawmakers pass marijuana legalization, sending bill to governor

NY would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and eventually allow marijuana sales to people over the age of 21 under a bill that's among the nation's most sweeping and passed the Senate with a party-line 40-23 vote Tuesday.

New York, which has failed to legalize marijuana for years despite Democratic control of the Legislature and governor's office, would become at least the 16th state to legalize marijuana sales to adults.

Ben Kovler, chief executive officer of Green Thumb Industries Inc, the second largest USA pot producer by market value, said his company will allocate "significant dollars" to the NY market - set to be the second largest legal market after California.

Many parts of the legislation would take effect immediately: New Yorkers could legally possess less than three ounces of marijuana outside the home - a 2019 state law removed criminal penalties for possession of two ounces.

"New York is NY, (there) couldn't be a bigger deal", Kovler said.

Cuomo added the legislation is projected to create 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs and $350 million in annual tax collection. "And that's not something that most other states did".

"By placing community reinvestment, social equity, and justice front and center, this law is the new gold standard for reform efforts nationwide", said Melissa Moore, New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"What cannabis brings and is now proven is tax revenue of a material nature", Kovler said, citing the example of IL, which in February collected more tax revenue from cannabis than alcohol.

Passed after several years of stalled efforts, the measure makes NY the 16th state to legalize adult use of the drug, though South Dakota's measure is in legal limbo.

"Fifty percent is a very high bar to try to reach, but if it happens, it would be wonderful", said Hillary Peckham, chief operator of Etain Health, a women-owned NY medical cannabis company that is considering applying for a recreational marijuana license. "It will have an impact on the way the federal government thinks about legalization", said Nicholas Vita, the CEO of New York-based Columbia Care Inc.

In the November 2020 election, voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, Mississippi and South Dakota approved cannabis reform measures while a national Gallup Poll released that same month revealed almost seven in 10 respondents approve of federal legalization, a record high.

The legislation provides protections for cannabis users in the workplace, housing, family court, schools, colleges and universities, and sets a target of providing half of marijuana licenses to individuals from underrepresented communities.

Observers say New York's move, which follows legalization in neighboring MA and New Jersey, builds momentum for legalization efforts nationwide.

"I'm driving this because I want people to be free from incarceration for a drug that people in their communities use every day", Stokes said.

NY officials plan to launch an education and prevention campaign aimed at reducing the risk of cannabis among school-aged children, and schools could get grants for anti-vaping and drug prevention and awareness programs.

The state will 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. "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".

Some Republicans believe the new law comes with dangers and is a step in the wrong direction. They can not opt out of legalization.

Legalization supporters say that it's already easy for young adults to get pot and that there's no clear link between marijuana legalization and traffic accidents.

Sales might not start until 2022, as the state will take time to establish its regulatory framework, legislative sources told ABC News.

There will be a 9% sales tax on all marijuana sales, as well as an additional 4% tax that will be split between counties and localities.

Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat and the legislation's senate sponsor, estimates the total tax rate will come out to about 20%. But the plans haven't played out as intended in many places. But that has drawn criticism and legal action from some Black-owned businesses that were passed over.

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