NY Poised to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

marijuana legalization
Legalizing recreational marijuana use in New York State could provide a major economic boost to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (REUTERS/Christinne Muschi)

By Hazel Shahgholi and Mark Hallum

Embattled Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a legislative agreement late on Saturday night to legalize recreational marijuana for adults in New York State with recent critics, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Detailed legislation claims that this law would bring a $350 million annual tax injection, with the potential to create 30,000 to 600,000 jobs, establishing a licensing system so black and brown New Yorkers can, in the future, legally profit off a substance that has historically ended in imprisonment.

“For generations, too many New Yorkers have been unfairly penalized for the use and sale of adult-use cannabis, arbitrarily arrested and jailed with harsh mandatory minimum sentences,” Cuomo said. “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.”

This milestone announcement builds on the 2019 decriminalization of marijuana and the state’s infrastructure for dispensing medical marijuana for qualified individuals. The tax dollar haul would provide much needed revenue source for the city in its Covid recovery.

“When we decriminalized adult use of marijuana in 2019, the Assembly Majority knew that legalization had to be done the right way – in a way that would help not harm our communities that have been devastated by the state’s drug laws,” Heastie said.

Considerations of building an inclusive industry have also been highlighted. Built into Cuomo’s plan is the hope that 50 percent of licenses go toward creation of minority or female owned businesses.

“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 we have reached the finish line,” Stewart-Cousins said.

The legislation seems to come with support from the Legal Aid Society’s Anne Oredeko, Supervising Attorney of the Racial Justice Unit, and Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit who believe the legislation will finally bring an end to policies that have hit black and brown New Yorkers hardest.

“For decades, New York State’s racist war on marijuana ensnared thousands of our clients – nearly all of whom are from Black and Latinx communities – and other New Yorkers from communities of color across the state, resulting in needless incarceration and a host of other devastating consequences,” the statement read. “This landmark legislation brings justice to New York State by ending prohibition, expunging conviction records that have curtailed the opportunities of countless predominately young Black and Latinx New Yorkers, and delivers economic justice to ensure that communities who have suffered the brunt of aggressive and disparate marijuana enforcement are first in line to reap the economic gain.”

Stringent health and safety protocols will be put in place, and considerations are already being made for traffic safety and detection of cannabis-impaired driving, which will be illegal.

In making this move, Cuomo and lawmakers join 15 other states and Washington DC in permitting recreational marijuana use.

This story first appeared on amNY.com

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