New York becomes 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana

ALBANY – New York became the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law Wednesday morning.

“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,” Cuomo said in a release announcing his signing of the bill.

Related: 5 things to know about New York’s recreational marijuana plan

The bill passed the state Assembly and Senate Tuesday evening after hours of debate.

Now that it’s signed, the law immediately legalizes possession of less than three ounces of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. It’s also legal to smoke marijuana in public anywhere that cigarette smoking is allowed, subject to future restrictions that localities might put in place. It also establishes a new government agency to regulate the industry and dole out licenses for retailers and cafes where cannabis products will be able to be consumed. The new agency is expected to take about 18 months to set up, officials said, with retail sales of marijuana to follow.

Marijuana legalization has been a priority for Cuomo this year. He opposed legalization until 2018, when Democrats took over the state Senate, and he has since pushed for legalization through the annual budget process. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and state Sen. Liz Krueger have for years carried legislation to legalize marijuana; this year they were able to win concessions from Cuomo on distributing the tax revenues from marijuana sales in communities that have been disproportionately affected by drug enforcement and mass incarceration.

Edward McKinley