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New York state legislature passes bill to legalize recreational marijuana

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New York is on its way to becoming the 16th state in the US to legalize marijuana after the state Senate and Assembly both voted to approve the bill on Tuesday, 30 March.

The state Senate voted 40-23 to pass the legislation. Later in the evening, the state Assembly voted 100-49 in favour of the bill.

“For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of colour with harsh prison sentences 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,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Tuesday night after the passage of the bill.

“I look forward to signing this legislation into law,” he said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he supports the legislation on the basis of racial equity. “I think this bill goes a long way. I think there’s more to do after, but it goes a long way.”

Black and Latino New Yorkers combined made up 94% of marijuana-related arrests by the New York police department in 2020, even though the city’s statistics show that the proportion of white New Yorkers using marijuana is considerably higher than that of either Latino or Black residents.

According to a New York City health department survey, 24% of white residents reported using marijuana, compared with 14% of black residents and 12% of Latino residents, over the two-year period of 2015-2016, the most recent available data.

The vote to legalize weed comes after neighbouring state New Jersey recently legalized the plant. Lawmakers’ goal was to pass the bill as part of the state budget before the April 1 deadline.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger and Assembly majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. Senators debated for three hours, with Republicans alleging that the bill is dangerous and does not represent the wishes of all New Yorkers.

“We took endless meetings with anyone who asked us,” Krueger said in response during the proceedings. “In truthfulness, I’m not sure I have ever met with as diverse a group of people as I did over the seven years that my chief of staff and I were working on this bill.”

Legalization is expected to eventually rake in billions of dollars in revenue for the state and for New York City in particular, with a hefty 13% tax, which includes a 9% state tax and a 4% local tax. The measure also includes a potency tax of as much as 3 cents per milligram of THC, the natural psychoactive component of marijuana that delivers the plant’s high.

An estimate from Cuomo’s office predicts annual tax revenues from legal weed sales could bring in $350 million a year and 60,000 jobs to the state when the industry is fully established.

The measure allows for possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana and 24 ounces of marijuana concentrate and allows for the growth of up to six plants at home.

The legislation also creates equity programs to provide loans and grants to people including small farmers who have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

Some officials are even calling for the bill to fund universal basic income and homeownership programs for communities most heavily affected by the drug war.

The bill will expunge the criminal records of tens of thousands of people, has a goal of 40% revenue reinvestment into communities of colour, and will grant 50% of adult-use licenses to social equity applicants and small businesses.

The bill will also establish “a well-regulated industry to ensure consumers know exactly what they are getting when they purchase cannabis.”

The measure will create an 0ffice of cannabis management, which will be an independent agency operating with the New York State liquor authority. The agency would be in charge of regulating the recreational cannabis market and the existing medical cannabis programs. The agency would also be overseen by a cannabis control board composed of five members, three appointed by the governor and one each appointed by the state Senate and state Assembly.

New York officials are launching an education and prevention campaign to reduce the risk of cannabis use among school-age children, and schools will be eligible for drug prevention and awareness programs. The state will also launch a study that examines cannabis’s effect on driving.

The bill will allow for localities to pass laws banning cannabis dispensaries and consumption licenses, with a deadline of nine months after legalization.

If the bill is signed, legalization of the plant would be effective immediately but legal recreational sales would not be expected to begin for one or two years.

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