New York State Senate passes bill to legalize recreational weed

  • The New York State Senate passed on Tuesday a bill to legalize recreational marijuana.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said just days ago he would sign it after agreeing with state lawmakers on the framework.
  • If signed, legalization of the plant would be effective immediately but recreational sales are not expected to begin for one or two years.

The New York State Senate on Tuesday voted 40-23 to pass a bill to legalize recreational marijuana. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would sign it after agreeing with state lawmakers on the framework just days ago.

The New York State Assembly is also expected to vote on the bill.

If the bill is signed, the Empire State would become the fifteenth state in the country, along with the District of Columbia, to have legalized the drug for recreational use.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio has said he supports the legislation on the basis of racial equity. "I think this bill goes a long way. I think there's more to do after, but it goes a long way," De Blasio said, according to WDTV ABC 11.

Black and Brown New Yorkers made up 94% of marijuana-related arrests by New York Police in 2020, even though white New Yorkers use marijuana at the same rates.

The move to legalize weed comes after neighboring state New Jersey recently legalized the plant. Lawmakers' goal was to pass the bill as part of the state budget before the April 1 deadline.

Legislators debated the measure in the Senate for three hours, with Republican senators alleging that the bill is dangerous and does not represent the wishes of all New Yorkers. The bill's sponsor, Senator Liz Krueger responded during the proceedings: "We took endless meetings with anyone who asked us … in truthfulness I'm not sure I have ever met with as diverse a group of people as I did over the seven years that my chief of staff and I were working on this bill."

Legalization is expected to eventually rake in billions of dollars in revenue for the state and for New York City in particular, with a hefty 13% tax which includes a 9% state tax and a 4% local tax. The measure also includes a potency tax of as much as 3 cents per milligram of THC in the product, which is the natural psychoactive component that delivers the famous effects of the plant's high.

An estimate from Cuomo's office predicts annual tax revenues from legal weed sales could bring in $350 million a year and 60,000 jobs to the state when the industry is fully established.

The measure allows for possession of up to three ounces of marijuana and 24 ounces of marijuana concentrate. The bill also allows for the growth of up to six plants at home and creates equity programs to provide loans and grants to people and small farmers that have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

"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 color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities," Krueger said in a press release.

While recording her vote in favor of the measure, Krueger said: "I saw such injustice going on, and for young people whose lives were being destroyed for doing something I did when I was a kid. Nobody put a gun to my head and nobody tried to put me in jail because I was this nice white girl."

Some officials are even calling for the bill to fund universal basic income and home ownership programs for communities most heavily affected by the drug war.

Rochester, New York Mayor Lovely Warren said: "With the legalization of marijuana on the horizon, we have the ability to enact legislation locally to make the concept of reparations through a UBI and home ownership a reality for Rochester and its families," Rochesterfirst.com reported.

The bill will expunge the criminal records of tens of thousands of people, has a goal of 40% revenue reinvestment into communities of color, and will grant 50% of adult-use licenses to social equity applicants and small businesses. The bill will also establish "a well-regulated industry to ensure consumers know exactly what they are getting when they purchase cannabis."

The measure willalsocreate an Office of Cannabis Management, which will be an independent agency operating with the New York State Liquor Authority. The agency would be in charge of regulating the recreational cannabis market and the existing medical cannabis programs. The agency would also be overseen by a Cannabis Control Board, which would be composed of five members — three appointed by the governor, one appointed by the state Senate and one appointed by the state Assembly.

Police groups and the New York Parent-Teacher Association have openly expressed concern around the bill.

"Absolute travesty. All research submitted shows it will be harmful to children, makes the roads less safe," New York State PTA Executive Director Kyle Belopkopitsky said, according to ABC 7 New York reported. "And I have absolutely no idea what the legislature is thinking in thinking they want to advance this right now."

New York officials are launching an education and prevention campaign to reduce the risk of cannabis use among school-aged children, schools will also be eligible for drug prevention and awareness programs. The state will also launch a study that examines cannabis' effect on driving and whether it depends on factors like metabolism or time, the study will be due Dec. 31, 2022.

The bill will also allow for localities to pass laws banning cannabis dispensaries and consumption licenses, with a deadline of nine months after legalization.

Once signed, legalization of the plant will be effective immediately but recreational sales are not expected to begin for one or two years.

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