NY lawmakers vote yes on legal marijuana

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A man smokes a joint during a demonstration for the decriminalization of cannabis. (Photo by THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images)

ALBANY, NY — After years of attempts, New York’s lawmakers voted Tuesday to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. 

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the bill into law — which he’s expected to do — 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.

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