On Tuesday, New York legislators decisively voted to pass a bill legalizing recreational marijuana for adults in the Empire State.
In a show of overwhelming support, the state senate passed the bill 40-23 before handing it off to the assembly, where it was approved in a 100-49 vote. Despite the bill being released a short three days prior, Tuesday’s approval process took only a matter of hours.
Today the legislation then headed to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk, where within hours he signed the bill into law.
“Legalizing adult-use cannabis isn’t just about creating a new market that will provide jobs and benefit the economy—it’s also about justice for long-marginalized communities and ensuring those who’ve been unfairly penalized in the past will now get a chance to benefit. I look forward to signing this legislation into law,” the governor said in a statement signaling his support for the bill.
Restorative justice and equity have been critical points in the discussions between the governors’ office and legislators during the past weeks. As it stands, New York’s legalization bill will do more than simply legalize marijuana. Senate Majority Leader and co-sponsor of the bill, Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D), said,
“There were many important aspects of this legislation that needed to be addressed correctly—especially the racial disparities that have plagued our state’s response to marijuana use and distribution as well as ensuring public safety—and I am proud that through strong collaboration, we have reached the finish line.”
Equity Provisions In MRTA
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) will also immediately expunge prior marijuana convictions from New Yorker’s records as well as create protections for cannabis workers against discrimination in housing, educational access, and parental rights. In addition, marijuana odor will no longer be sufficient enough reason for police to conduct a search.
It seems the governor has also acquiesced on another sticking point during preliminary discussions—the reinvestment of marijuana tax revenue in minority communities most affected by prohibition.
With the MRTA Bill, legislators aim to issue 50% of cannabis business licenses to social equity applicants. Additionally, 40% of cannabis tax revenue will go into a minority reinvestment fund, another 40% would be allocated to public schools, and 20% would fund drug rehabilitation programs.
“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,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger (D) who co-sponsored the bill alongside Stewart Cousins. “I believe we have achieved that in this bill, as well as addressing the concerns and input of stakeholders across the board.”
Other Provisions In MRTA
The other major hurdle stalling progress on legalization efforts regarded whether driving while impaired by marijuana would remain a misdemeanor offense or be reduced to a traffic violation.
For now, driving under the influence of cannabis will continue to be a misdemeanor, though the Department of Health will begin a study searching for technology that can more accurately determine if a driver is under the effects of marijuana while operating the vehicle.
Other provisions in the MRTA include allowances for adults to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for personal use with a maximum of twelve plants per household, allowances for marijuana delivery services, and the creation of a new Office of Cannabis Management that would operate within the umbrella of the New York State Liquor Authority.
“After years of tireless advocacy and extraordinarily hard work, that time is coming to an end in New York State,” said Governor Cuomo.
The Big Apple is one giant step closer to legalizing marijuana for adult use.
Yesterday, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) told reporters that the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) had overcome last week’s impasse regarding impaired driving. With that impediment removed, all signs point towards a bill passing in the next few days.
“I think we are really, really really close on (legalizing) marijuana, we have gotten past the impasse of the impaired driving,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We are looking to get language that will I think be satisfactory in the next day or so.”
What’s The Issue?
The issue at hand was whether driving under the influence of marijuana should be treated as a traffic infraction or criminal misdemeanor.
Law enforcement groups, including the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, raised concerns that classifying impaired driving as a traffic infraction would send the wrong message to the public, endangering residents and visitors.
Conversely, legislators have emphasized the importance of reducing marijuana incarcerations, as well as ending the police practice of conducting searches on the basis of marijuana odor alone.
The lack of effective roadside testing technology further complicates things since present-day testing methods can not accurately determine how recently a driver has consumed marijuana.
At The Negotiating Table
Currently, how exactly lawmakers resolved the impasse remains unclear. However, Governor Cuomo has already conceded two key provisions in his legalization plan to the legislature: social equity funding and home-grow.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), co-sponsored by Stewart-Cousins and Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger (D), starkly contrasted the governor’s original marijuana bill by allowing New York residents to cultivate cannabis inside their own homes, as well as by setting aside a percentage of marijuana tax revenue to be reinvested in the minority communities that have been most affected by marijuana prohibition.
While the exact language in the bill remains hazy, Senator Krueger said in a radio interview that she is “extremely pleased with the agreement that we have come to.”
Is The Third Time The Charm For Governor Cuomo?
This will be the governor’s third attempt at passing marijuana reform. In 2019 and 2020, Cuomo endeavored to pass a legalization bill through his executive budget, though each time he was thwarted by his own party who criticized the gubernatorial office for prioritizing tax revenue above criminal justice reform. This year, however, the legislature has made it clear that negotiations will take place outside of the budget process.
Regardless of their differences, both Cuomo and the legislature are optimistic that they will reach an agreement soon. The governor made his intention to succeed in legalizing marijuana this go-round by saying, “We’ve tried to do that for the past three years, we have to get it done this year.”
“Since I’ve never gotten this close to the deadline before, I’m feeling that there is impetus to get this done as quickly as possible,” Senator Krueger recently said. “ I am prepared to do everything in my power to close this out, get this bill to both floors, and get it signed by the governor.”
New York is on the precipice of completing a deal that would usher legal marijuana into the state. Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo (D) expressed that he and the state Legislators were “very close” to reaching an agreement.
For the third year in a row, the governor has attempted to pass marijuana reform legislation as part of his executive budget. Past efforts at reform from the gubernatorial office have largely been unsuccessful due to disagreements with the more progressive wing of Cuomo’s own party.
This time, however, negotiations will take place outside of the budget process.
Cuomo Criticized For Putting Tax Revenue Above Criminal Justice
Cuomo, who is currently facing a growing number of calls to resign amidst an onslaught of sexual harassment allegations, has been criticized in the past by drug policy reform advocates for pushing a legalization plan that prioritizes maximizing state revenue over reinvesting in the minority communities most victimized by marijuana prohibition.
In response, the governor’s office has released a proposal claiming that some funds from cannabis tax revenue may be used for minority community reinvestment purposes but doesn’t guarantee it. “The devil is in the details,” According to Melissa Moore, the New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. Moore says,
“The governor’s proposal has included some of the language from the MRTA about what the community grants reinvestment fund could be used for, but it hasn’t actually had the lockbox guarantee around funds going to communities.”
There have also been concerns that Cuomo’s plan, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA), won’t do enough to prevent the future criminalization of cannabis users. Under the CRTA plan, possession of marijuana purchased from an unlicensed source would remain a misdemeanor offense with potential jail time. In contrast, the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) proposed by state legislators would make possession of illicit cannabis up to two pounds of flower or 4.5 ounces of concentrate a violation only punishable with a fine.
While the MRTA allows for six marijuana plants to be grown per household, The CRTA prohibits residents of the state from cultivating any cannabis plants inside their own homes, severely limiting access to consumers who don’t want to purchase from state-licensed dispensaries.
Growing Support For MRTA
NORML, one of the largest cannabis advocacy lobbies in the country, rated both legalization plans at the beginning of this month. The New York NORML Chapter found that “[The] MRTA is far superior to the CRTA,” and gave the legislator’s plan an A- grade while only giving Cuomo’s a C-.
A recent poll conducted by Consensus Strategies found that New Yorkers favor marijuana reform policy that more closely resembles the MRTA. 52% of those surveyed said that they preferred legislation allowing state residents to grow a limited amount of marijuana plants at home, and 51% supported license preferences for social equity applicants.
In a Twitter statement on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) expressed his support for the legalization efforts taking place in the Big Apple. While he didn’t mention Cuomo by name, he did explicitly show his support for the MRTA plan saying,
“We must ensure that tax dollars flow to communities harmed by over-criminalization; small entrepreneurs and directly impacted people have an opportunity to enter the market through strong social equity provisions; marijuana is not used as pretext for criminalizing Black and Brown people, especially youth; and that individuals weighed down by past criminal convictions are given an opportunity to move on as productive members of society.”
Senator Schumer went on to thank supporters of MRTA, specifically calling out legislators Crystal People-Stokes (D) and Liz Krueger (D)—the two legislators responsible for introducing the bill.
Currently, Senator People-Stokes is optimistic that the legislation will advance before April 1st.
According to the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), the Empire State is “very close” to legalizing marijuana.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) echoed this sentiment on Monday, stating that lawmakers plan to advance the stand-alone legalization bill before passing the budget, which is due on April 1st. However, questions regarding traffic stops and driving while impaired currently have legislators deadlocked.
“We are extremely close. We have reached a little bit of an impasse right now, and it has to do with impaired driving.” State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said at a press conference on Tuesday.
No One Wants To Arrest Unlawfully
Law enforcement agencies have expressed concerns that the classification of driving under the influence of cannabis as a traffic infraction would send the wrong message to the public and encourage New Yorkers to drive while intoxicated from marijuana use. The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York maintains that driving while on cannabis should remain a misdemeanor crime.
In its current form, roadside marijuana testing cannot determine how recently a driver may have used cannabis, adding an extra layer of difficulty in policing motorists who use marijuana.
Despite the impasse, Stewart-Cousins remains optimistic about the bill’s eventual passing, saying
“It’s a matter of when, not if.” State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Originally, Gov. Cuomo included his own version of the legislation in his annual budget request, though it was omitted Monday in a Senate resolution. It seems state legislators would prefer to handle the marijuana issue outside of budget negotiations.
New York’s Third Opportunity to Legalize Marijuana
Past efforts from the governor to bring pot to New York have flopped largely due to disagreements within his own party regarding equity and revenue spending. While state lawmakers sought to spend large swaths of new tax revenue on supporting minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition, Gov. Cuomo’s previous plans allocated the majority of funds under state control.
Gov. Cuomo isn’t the only one ready for recreational marijuana to hit the state. According to a recent survey conducted by Sienna College, New Yorkers overwhelmingly support legalizing cannabis for adult use. The poll found that 59% of those surveyed were in favor of legalization, while only a meager 33% were opposed. Last year, in the neighboring state of New Jersey, voters decisively cast ballots in favor of a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis, allowing lawmakers to set up the necessary regulatory systems for a recreational market.
During his Monday press conference, Cuomo said, “I think this should’ve passed years ago. I think too many people have been imprisoned, incarcerated, and punished. Too many of those people are Black, Latino, and poor. It’s exaggerated the injustice of the justice system.”
Arizona voters will have a chance to cast a ballot in support of recreational marijuana this coming November.
The initiative will hit the polls only four years after voters rejected a similar measure by a slim margin of 2.6 percent. However, a recent survey showed that over 62 percent of likely voters now support legalizing cannabis, suggesting a recent change of heart in the Grand Canyon State.
Supporters of the measure turned in a petition that had garnered over 420,000 raw signatures to Secretary of State Katie Hobb’s office in July. On August 10th, Hobb’s certified the signatures and added the initiative to the ballot under the name Prop. 207.
If approved, Prop. 207 would make it legal for adults in Arizona to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, so long as no more than five grams of that marijuana is in the form of concentrates. Arizonans would also be allowed to cultivate up to six cannabis plants in their homes. In homes with two or more adults, the allowance would go up to twelve plants total.
The measure requires the Department of Health Services to set forth the rules regarding retail sales by June 1, 2021. State and local sales taxes would be charged, as well as an additional 16 percent excise tax. The revenue from the taxes collected would be split between the state agencies responsible for overseeing the implementation of the law, fire departments, highways, community colleges, and a restorative justice fund.
Employers would still be allowed to ban marijuana in the workplace and prohibit potential applicants and current employees from using cannabis.
Prop. 207 will do more than simply legalize cannabis in Arizona. There are several provisions written to help those who have been impacted by the harsh realities of prohibition, including establishing a social equity program designed to issue licenses to members of communities that have been historically disproportionately targeted by cannabis laws. It would also allow Arizonans who have been previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes to petition for the expungement of their records.
Support for Proposition 207
Smart and Safe Arizona, where former House representative Chad Campbell (D-24) is a chairperson of the campaign committee, spearheads the initiative’s campaign.
“As the name says, smart and safe. It’s put together in a responsible way to sell this product to adults only, and it will generate revenue, much-needed revenue, for the state which is a win for everybody,” Campbell told Fox10 Phoenix. He estimates that legal cannabis will bring around $300 million in revenue a year.
Political consultant Stacy Pearson told KTVK, “[Prop. 207] does the right thing by providing an option for folks who were previously convicted of low-level marijuana charges to have their criminal records sealed, so they have fair access to jobs and housing. It frees up police to focus on real crime and hard drugs and unclogs the justice system, which is currently backlogged with minor offenses.”
Opposition to Proposition 207
Robert Leger, a spokesperson for Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, has concerns about what kind of signal legalization could send to young people.
“I think there’s a lot here to worry about. If you have a vote that says it’s OK to use it, I think those kids who might be on the fence might are more likely to say ‘The voters say it’s a good thing [sic] to have, it can’t be bad for us.’ I think it makes it more legitimate in the eyes of a teenager.” Leger said to KTVK
Contrary to what Leger believes, studies have shown that legal cannabis markets have not caused increased marijuana use by minors.
Marijuana may be legal in Vermont, but there are no dispensaries slinging pre-rolls and dab pens because a retail framework has not yet been established.
The Legal Status of Marijuana in Vermont
In January of 2018, Vermont made cannabis history by becoming the first state in the union to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers, instead of through a ballot initiative. At that point, they were the ninth state to end prohibition. The bill allowed for residents of the Green Mountain State above the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use, and to cultivate no more than two cannabis plants.
The bill, however, did not make permissible the sale of marijuana. So while Vermonters won’t find themselves in trouble with the law for simply having cannabis in their possession, the process of actually acquiring it has not changed all that much since becoming legal.
The History of S. 54
Almost exactly one year after legalizing marijuana, the Vermont State Senate produced another bill—one that would allow Vermont to create a taxable cannabis market akin to what we see in states like Washington and Colorado. That piece of legislation, titled S. 54, was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate with a veto-proof majority of 23 to 5. However, that was just the beginning.
Fast forward another year—S. 54 made its way to the House, where it was subject to amendments. Most of which were related to tax structure, and included opening an education fund where tax revenue from cannabis sales would be directly deposited. This move was seen as an appeal to Republican Governor Phil Scott, who despite originally opposing legalizing marijuana sales, implied he might come around on the issue if the tax revenue could be used to fund his after school proposal.
The bill officially cleared the house in February of this year.
Where is S. 54 Now?
Currently, two versions of S. 54 exist—the original Senate bill, and the House’s iteration with the added amendments. Vermont legislators appointed members to a bicameral conference committee to merge the two versions into one back in March, but much to the chagrin of marijuana advocates, the committee has not yet been authorized to meet. In May, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) told Marijuana Moment that S. 54 would have to take a back seat to the pandemic. “Our attention, I believe rightly, has been entirely on the COVID crisis and making sure that we get Vermonters through this very intense desperate period,” said Johnson.
However, on Wednesday, August 5 Johnson’s chief of staff told Marijuana Moment in an email that “S.54 is currently in a committee of conference and we expect that committee to meet during the August/September legislative session. That’s consistent with what the leader said during a June telephone town hall, where she said they were ‘aiming to get it passed in August.’”
The Future of S. 54
While S. 54 is only a few weeks away from reaching the seemingly supportive bicameral committee that will be responsible for deciding it’s fate, there’s still one more hurdle to clear—and it’s a big one.
After the committee reconciles the bill’s two versions into one, and both chambers approve it, that final piece of legislation will land on Governor Phil Scott’s desk. Once there, Scott will have the option to either sign it into law, or veto it. Scott has historically been opposed to legalization, but has also indicated that he may be open to S. 54 depending on where the tax revenue was spent. Since taking office, Governor Scott has vetoed both a family leave plan, and a minimum wage increase.