Gov. Cuomo signs bill legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana in New York

New York State

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

Gov. Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law Wednesday morning after it was passed by the New York State Assembly and Senate 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.” Gov. Cuomo said Wednesday in a statement. “This was one of my top priorities in this year’s State of the State agenda and I’m proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis. I thank both the Leader and the Speaker, and the tireless advocacy of so many for helping make today’s historic day possible.”

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 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, Sen. Liz Krueger, Senate sponsor of the bill and chair of the Senate’s finance committee, said.

“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 percent 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.

“Today, New York stepped up and took transformative action to end the prohibition of adult-use marijuana,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea 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. This effort was years in the making and we have finally achieved what many thought was impossible, a bill that legalizes marijuana while standing up for social equity, enhancing education and protecting public safety. I applaud Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes for their commitment and leadership on this issue.”

“Passage of this bill will mean not just legalizing marijuana, but also investing in education and our communities, and it brings to an end decades of disproportionately targeting people of color under state and federal drug laws,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “I thank Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes for her years of advocacy and efforts to make this bill a reality. 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. 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.”

“I’m extremely humbled, proud and honored to have passed the historic Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act with my partners in government Senator Liz Krueger and Governor Cuomo. This social justice initiative will provide equity to positively transform disenfranchised communities of color for the better,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “I believe this bill can serve as a blue print for future states seeking inclusive cannabis legalization. I would be remiss not to thank all of my family, colleagues, advocates and supporters over 8 long years.”

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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