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Legal Marijuana Era Approaches In New York

Medical Marijuana
Jesse King
Medical Marijuana

New Yorkers over the age of 21 will be able to legally buy marijuana as early as next year, under terms of a bill agreed to by both houses of the state legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo and set to be voted on Tuesday. 

By late 2022, adults in the state would be able to buy cannabis in retail stores, and could also sample the drug in tasting rooms similar to winetasting venues. They would also be able to grow a limited number of marijuana plants at home — six per person and up to 12 per household.  

Both the governor and the legislature offered proposals.

Senate sponsor Liz Krueger says the final measure more closely resembles the bill she and Assembly sponsor, Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes had advocated for. It includes a community reinvestment fund for neighborhoods adversely impacted by the decades long prohibition of the drug.

“It will make us the nation’s leading model for marijuana legalization,” said Krueger. “It puts racial justice in the foreground.”

50% of the licenses to grow and sell marijuana would be set aside for what’s known as equity businesses, including people from disproportionately impacted communities and small farmers. They would have access to loans, grants, and incubator programs.

The funds will come from a 13% sales tax to be charged on the sale of the drug. The revenues could reach $350 million a year. Some of that money would also go towards combatting drug addiction. The remainder will be used to fund public education.

Melissa Moore, with the national group Drug Policy Alliance, says the measure goes a long ways to right the wrongs during the years of marijuana criminalization.

“It’s an absolute watershed moment,” said Moore, who says over 800,000 New Yorkers were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana over the past 25 years, and punishments disproportionately fell on Black and Brown New Yorkers.  She says he hopes the law will “turn the page into a new era of marijuana justice.”

The legislation further decriminalizes possession of the drug, eliminating penalties for having 3 ounces or less of cannabis, or storing up to 5 pounds at home.  It also would expunge the records for people with previous convictions for amounts that are no longer criminalized.

It would still be illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, and local law enforcement agencies would get money to hire and train drug recognition experts. The bill acknowledges, though, that it’s difficult to measure whether the drug is influencing driving behaviors, and it sets up a research study to find ways to better detect whether a driver is impaired by a cannabis product.

Local governments will have the choice of banning retail stores and the marijuana tasting rooms, as long as they opt out by the end of this year.

A vote on the measure could come as early as Tuesday.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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