After clearing several Senate and Assembly committee votes with lightning speed, both chambers of the New York State legislature are expected to pass a bill legalizing recreational cannabis sometime today or tomorrow. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign the bill into law.
New York will become the second-largest state (after California) with legal weed, and the 17th overall. Virginia’s legislature passed a legalization bill in early February. Thirty-eight states have some kind of medical cannabis program.
Gov. Cuomo, who initially insisted the cannabis legislation be included in the budget process—which he has traditionally ruled with an iron fist—has agreed to support the current bill, which his office negotiated with the legislature. Cuomo’s position in the state has been severely weakened in recent weeks following two major scandals.
Last year, Cuomo pushed through a ban on non-tobacco flavored vaping products during an all-night legislative budget vote. Legislators debated various parts of the budget by video conference in the wee hours of the morning, but the flavor ban had no public discussion.
The new law will create licensed retailers, which are expected to begin doing business sometime in 2022 or 2023, according to Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. However, penalties for public possession of up to three ounces of cannabis flower (or 24 grams of concentrates) would end immediately. Residents would also be able to store up to five pounds of flower in their homes right away.
Other components of the law, according to Marijuana Moment, are expected to include:
- Home cultivation of up to six plants (three mature) will be allowed (or up to 12 per household). Legislators will have six months to create rules for private medical grows, and 18 months after the first legal recreational sales begin to regulate recreational growing
- Cultivators, processors, distributors, retailers, cooperatives and nurseries would be licensed by the state. Aside from microbusinesses and existing medical cannabis businesses, vertical integration (allowing one company to hold multiple licenses) would be prohibited
- A new agency—the Office of Cannabis Management—that will be part of the New York State Liquor Authority, will regulate the recreational market and the hemp and medical cannabis programs. Sales will not begin until this agency is in place and rules have been created
- Cannabis products will be taxed at nine percent, plus an additional four percent that will be split between counties and municipalities. Distributors will also pay a “THC tax” based on the type of product being sold. The tax is higher for more potent products
- Delivery services will be allowed
- Smokable hemp flower will be legal
- Social consumption sites (cannabis lounges) will be allowed
- The current medical program will be amended to expand the list of qualifying conditions, and allow cannabis flower to be vaped or smoked by patients. Current medical businesses will be allowed to participate in the recreational market
- Prior convictions for marijuana-related activities that will now be legal will automatically be expunged, and police will not be allowed to use the odor of cannabis as a justification for searches. However, driving while impaired will remain a crime (a misdemeanor)
- Cannabis users and industry employees will be protected against discrimination in housing, educational access and parental rights. The bill also has significant social equity components
- Local jurisdictions will be allowed to opt out of allowing retail sales or consumption sites, but residents will have the right to override these bans by local referendum
Cannabis opponents pulled out all the stops leading up to today’s hearings, raising fears about impaired driving and use by kids. Articles about new studies showing the dangers of adolescent pot use appeared, and were immediately promoted by anti-weed campaigners. Of course, teenagers smoke marijuana already, and legalizing and regulating the market won’t make it more available to minors.
Legal cannabis is popular with New York residents; nearly 60 percent support recreational pot. According to the New York Times, Cuomo’s sudden support of the legislature’s legalization bill is partly an attempt by the governor to latch onto the coattails of a good-news story and divert attention away from his nursing home and sexual harassment scandals.
Cuomo made major concessions on the bill, including allowing 40 percent of cannabis tax revenues to go to the state’s Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, which will issue grants to community-based organizations and local governments to reinvest in areas that have been disproportionately affected by past drug policies. Cuomo’s original proposal allowed him to control the tax revenues.