Under a legalization bill signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday, New Yorkers will now be able to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis, while sales of recreational marijuana will not be legal for another 18 months as the state creates regulations.
Advocates for criminal justice reform hope that it would also serve to correct inequities in a system that disproportionately imprisons people of color for drug offenses. The bill safeguards cannabis patients at work, in housing, in family court, and in schools, colleges, and universities, and it sets a goal of granting half of the marijuana licenses to people from underrepresented groups.
Individuals with any previous drug-related convictions will have their criminal records immediately expunged, and law enforcement in the state will no longer be able to apprehend or prosecute people in possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana. That’s a step forward from a 2019 law that expunged several prior marijuana possession convictions and lowered the penalty for small amounts.
The bill also permits the use of cannabis in public places, but New Yorkers are still barred from smoking or vaping marijuana in places where it is prohibited by state law, such as offices, colleges and universities, hospitals, and within 100 feet of a kindergarten.
Although the industry will take some time to develop, forecasts from the trade publication Marijuana Business Daily suggest that by its fourth year, New York will be the largest on the East Coast, producing $2.3 billion in annual revenue.
Cuomo has said that collecting $300 million in tax revenue could take years, but Republicans doubt the state would get that much. Owing to lower-than-expected marijuana prices, California had to subtract $223 million from its 2019 budget estimates.
The state’s cost of regulating and enforcing the marijuana legalization law would be covered first, with the remaining funds going to schools, drug treatment, and prevention programs, and a fund for investing in job skills, adult education, mental health, and other services in communities that have borne the burden of the national and state drug wars.
New York will levy a 9% sales tax on marijuana, plus a 4% county and local tax and a separate tax dependent on the amount of THC.
The state will include loans, grants, and incubator programs to enable people from minority groups, as well as small farmers, women, and disabled veterans, to participate in the cannabis industry.
“Fifty percent is a really high bar to aspire to achieve, but if it happens, it will be fantastic,” said Hillary Peckham, CEO of Etain Health.
She added, “The next move will be to see how the rules and program are set up to actually provide such opportunities.”
In recent years, social justice has emerged as a central trend in marijuana legalization, with newly legal states attempting to incorporate it and others seeking to compensate for a lack of diversity in the companies they previously licensed. However, in many cases, the preparations haven’t worked out as planned.
The equity clauses in Illinois‘ 2019 law, for example, were lauded. However, several Black-owned companies that were passed over have expressed their displeasure and threatened legal action as a result. In an attempt to resolve those concerns, Illinois has since revamped its operation.