ALBANY – Lawmakers finally struck a deal late Saturday night and released details on their plan to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana in New York.
The deal came after a negotiation defined by fits and starts. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has for three years supported legalizing recreational marijuana and attempted to enact the policy through the state’s budget process, but he has been stymied over disagreements about how to distribute the tax revenue. This year, politically weakened by the multiple scandals he faces, the state Legislature has earned some hard-fought concessions in a negotiation conducted separately from the budget, and a final deal was finally reached over the weekend.
It could be signed into law as early as the middle of this week, fully legalizing marijuana possession of less than three ounces for people over the age of 21. The law would take affect immediately – but to set up licensing and oversight it could take 18 months to two years for retail stores to open. When Republicans controlled the Senate before 2018, their party blocked the issue from consideration, but Democrats now hold supermajorities in both chambers and should easily have enough votes to pass the bill.
Here are the five most important things to know:
There will be a 13 percent tax on marijuana sales, with 9 percent going back to the state and 4 percent split between cities and counties. Cuomo has estimated that once mature, tax revenue from the marijuana industry could bring in $350 million annually to New York.
A significant portion – 40 percent – of that money will be poured back into communities that have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs and by mass incarceration, namely people of color. Another 40 percent will go to schools, and the remaining 20 percent will be for programs to counteract drug abuse. There will also be funding set aside to combat marijuana-impaired driving, including training police to recognize drug use and for roadside testing for impairment.
The fact that the money is earmarked rather than going to the state’s general fund represents a win for Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Liz Krueger, who negotiated against the governor for the policy.
“My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities,” Krueger said in a statement accompanying her announcement of the deal. She has pushed for marijuana legalization for years.
New Yorkers that have been charged with marijuana-related offenses that would no longer be illegal under the new law will automatically have their records expunged. Studies show that while white and Black people use drugs like marijuana at similar rates, communities of color are policed at vastly higher rates, leading to the enforcement of anti-marijuana laws against those communities far more frequently.
As a result, there are massive racial disparities in who is sent to prison for smoking weed.
3. Who will administer this?
A new Office of Cannabis Management will be created, run by a board comprised of members chosen by the Legislature and the governor, with an executive director chosen by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. There will also be a chief equity officer chosen by a supermajority of the board.
In addition to the new regulatory agency, there will also be a Cannabis Advisory Board, “representing a broad range of communities of interest,” that will oversee how the funds are distributed – which are to be reinvested in those communities disproportionately affected by the drug war.
4. Who gets to sell it?
The law would establish a goal of half of all retail licenses to go to equity applicants from disproportionately affected communities, as well as small farmers. Critics of the legalization plan had frequently said that “big tobacco” and “big alcohol” were the ones pushing legalization out of a desire to cash-in, so these policies represent an effort to make the new industry more available to the little guys.
There would also be equity programs “providing loans, grants, and incubator programs” to foster the group of potential applicants from those communities.
Baked into the process for evaluating applicants for licenses are progressive requirements that those applicants display “social equity status, commitment to environmentally sound policies, public health, and fair labor practices.”
5. Can I grow weed in my house?
Under the new legislation, all New York adults will be individually be allowed to grow three mature and three immature plants – with a maximum of six mature and six immature plants per house regardless of how many adults are in the home.