Yo, I know it’s April Fool’s Day and everyone has their guard up in case they run into corny jokes but this is not a drill.
As weed legalization is making its way throughout the country, with 14 states having legalized recreational use, many wonder what the hold-up was for New York. In recent years, New York has come frustratingly close to passing weed legalization several times but legislation seemed to flop every time. The main concern came from suburban Democrats, citing concerns over how to address drivers who are suspected to be under the influence of cannabis.
During a press conference last Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gently mentioned the legalization of weed as one of his main priorities, which is a talking point that many New Yorkers have heard from Cuomo before. But this time, he mentioned that it is not only a means to generate revenue, but also a logistical decision since neighboring states such as New Jersey and Massachusetts have voted to legalize weed. Legislation to establish recreational cannabis commerce in the Garden State, decriminalize cannabis and lighten up penalties for underage possession of weed and alcohol was signed into law last month by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a little over three months after a historic vote to legalize the recreational use of the drug.
Just a week after the press conference, Gov. Cuomo signed the cannabis legislation, making New York the 15th state to legalize the recreational use of weed. This historic and relieving moment for a lot of New Yorkers was preceded by State Legislature passing the bill (after hours of debate in Albany). The impasse in the discussions was about sales tax revenue (Cuomo’s office estimates $350 million annually) and how this legalization will inevitably involve a serious discussion about how people of color have been impacted by the war on drugs and what this means for their communities following the legalization.
Now that details are set in stone, 40% of the tax revenue from cannabis sales will be channeled into those affected communities and people with previous weed-related convictions (that are no longer criminalized) will have their records automatically expunged. The law is also looking to involve those with prior weed-related convictions in the new legal market, which is something that a lot of states with legalized cannabis have not considered – a huge step in the name of equity.
Here are a couple of things that are immediately effective in New York:
- Allowed to possess up to 3oz of cannabis for recreational use or 24g of concentrated cannabis (such as oil).
- Permitted to smoke cannabis in public spaces. Regulations around this could change, but as of right now, you are allowed to smoke weed wherever you can smoke tobacco. There are clear restrictions in schools, workplaces, and inside a car.
A couple of obvious pluses are the expected $350 million in yearly tax revenue and the thousands of jobs this new market will provide. Jobs like cultivation, distribution, and sale of the drug will be newly available and up for grabs. The main changes that are currently down the pipeline are the regulations of the cannabis market. This path still needs to be paved for New York and a lot still needs to be ironed out. For example, rules surrounding cannabis delivery, cannabis recreational lounges, and at-home cannabis growing are things that require major consideration and care. If you are wondering when dispensaries will start opening their doors, don’t hold your breath, as it may take a minimum of a year for them to start up their business.
“This is a historic day in New York, one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement.
Republicans, being firmly opposed to the legislation, served as a “liaison,” reiterating health and safety concerns from parent-teacher associations and law enforcement groups.
“This deal legalizing marijuana is the result of closed-door discussions between leaders of one political party and a governor who is engulfed in scandal,” said Rob Ortt, the Republican leader in the Senate. “The outcome of these partisan negotiations is a deeply flawed piece of legislation that will hurt the health and safety of New Yorkers.”
It’s no surprise to anyone that Republicans are vexed by the passing of the bill. Regardless of where you stand, these facts remain true – this is a big win for the people of New York and an even bigger win for those who were incarcerated for minor cannabis-related charges.