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Adult-Use Cannabis is Now Legal in New York

Adult-Use Cannabis is Now Legal in New York

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.

Senator Introduces Full Marijuana Legalization Bill in New York

Senator Introduces Full Marijuana Legalization Bill in New York

In September of 2014, Senator Liz Kreuger (D-Manhattan) announced plans to introduce legislation in 2015 that would legalize, regulate and tax a retail marijuana market in New York. Three months later, in December, Senator Krueger hosted a public forum for her Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) to lead and encourage open discussion of the potential fiscal, economic, law and health benefits and risks that may arise from legalization.

The bill (1747) has now, officially, been filed. The four co-sponsors of the bill are Senator Martin Dilan, Senator Brad Hoylman, Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Senator Gustavo Rivera.

Aside from the potential fiscal and economic benefits, Senator Kreuger has cited the gross racial disparity in marijuana related arrests as motivation for sponsoring this legalization measure. She elaborated in a released statement, “Prohibition of marijuana is a policy that just hasn’t worked, no matter how you look at it, and it’s time to have an honest conversation about what we should do next. The illegal marijuana economy is alive and well, and our unjust laws are branding nonviolent New Yorkers, especially young adults, as criminals, creating a vicious cycle that ruins lives and needlessly wastes taxpayer dollars. Worst of all, this system has resulted in a civil rights disaster: African Americans are dramatically more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites, despite similar rates of marijuana use among both groups.”

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act establishes the State Liquor Authority as the regulatory body for the program, and regulates marijuana in the same manner as alcohol, except that the minimum age for legal possession is 18 instead of 21. However, a person must be 21 to make a legal purchase.

If MRTA is approved by legislators, the State Liquor Authority would be permitted to license cannabis cultivators, producers, transporters and retailers.  It also allows for home cultivation of up to 6 plants. Under this amendment, individual counties will be allowed to decide whether dispensaries will be permitted to operate. This bill also sets up a tax structure which allows localities to charge sales tax on retail cannabis sales. A portion of the state tax revenue collected will go towards re-entry and substance abuse programs, job training programs for low-income households, and to communites with high-unemployment rates.

Sen. Krueger sponsored and filed a similar bill last session, but it did receive enough support.

Perhaps this session will be different considering how the views of so many Americans have been influenced by two more states legalizing recreational marijuana last election day. The opinions of many New Yorkers have also possibly been influenced by Mayor DeBlasio’s orders for the The New York City police department to halt the practice of “buy and bust” marijuana arrests, and through the roll-out of the state’s first set of medical marijuana rules. True cannabis education is spreading rapidly across the nation, and perhaps New York lawmakers have caught on.


photo credit: Liz Krueger Facebook

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