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New York Legalizes Recreational Cannabis

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Mar 31, 2021    Last Updated: Apr 01, 2021
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*Update: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legalization bill in the afternoon of March 31, effectively legalizing adult-use cannabis across New York state. 

Lawmakers in New York have voted to legalize an adult-use cannabis market across the state.

In late vote on Tuesday, March 30, the “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act” cleared both the state’s Assembly and its Senate following hours of debate on its contents.

It now just has to be approved by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been a vocal proponent of drug reform in the state.

“New York has a storied history of being the progressive capital of the nation, and this important legislation will once again carry on that legacy,” he wrote in a statement responding to the bill’s passing. “I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”

In the bill

The legalization bill would enact an Office of Cannabis Management, which would oversee New York’s recreational and medical cannabis and hemp markets. Cannabis products would be available to those aged 21 and over. These products would be taxed at 13 percent, 9 percent to the state, 4 percent to localities. A “THC tax” would also be imposed, which would tax 0.5 cents per milligram for flower, 0.8 cents per milligram for concentrated cannabis, and 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

Forty percent of excess revenue from sales would be mandated to be reinvestment in communities disproportionately affected by the state’s drug laws; 20 percent would be divested to drug treatment, prevention, and education.

The bill also states that 50 percent of adult-use licenses should go to such social and economic equity applicants.

“For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences,” Governor Cuomo wrote in a statement responding to the bill’s passing, “and after years of hard work this landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy and establishes substantial safety guards for the public.”

Cities, towns, and villages would have the right to opt out of retail sales in their jurisdictions.

A home grow program, limited to three mature and three immature plants, would be legalized.

The bill also calls for the automatic expungement of criminal records for people with previous convictions for cannabis activities that are no longer criminalized.

Green streets

Once the legalization bill is signed by Governor Cuomo, New York would join the growing number of US states to pass an adult-use, recreational cannabis legalization law.

Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have some kind of legal adult-use cannabis market. Voters in New Jersey and Montana only approved legalization measures last November, but sales are expected to start in the next few months. A recreational bill also passed through Virginia’s state legislature this February, but has yet to be signed by the state governor, Ralph Northam.

As for New York’s market, sales are expected to start within a year. Some industry insiders have forecasted that the Empire State’s marijuana market could turn over $2.5 billion per annum by the program’s fourth year. Whether in that range or not, the state will likely become one of the largest recreational cannabis markets in the US, and probably the largest on the east coast.

New York legalized medical cannabis for a limited number of conditions in 2014. The state government then decriminalized possession of adult-use cannabis in 2019. Since then, the standard punishment for possessing less than an ounce of cannabis has been a $50 fine or a maximum $200 fine for 1 to 2 ounces.


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