New York state leaders in agreement over recreational marijuana

Jade-Ceres Violet D. Munoz

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New York lawmakers have reached an agreement late Saturday on the legislation that would legalize sales of recreational marijuana in New York. The bill would expand New York’s existing medical cannabis program established by the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), which aims to “implement a comprehensive regulatory framework that would cover medical, adult-use and cannabinoid hemp,” said a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Sunday morning.

The New York State Cannabis/Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act would allow New Yorkers over the age of 21 to grow their own plants at home. Individuals could grow up to three mature and three immature plants for personal consumption.

The bill would also add a 13% tax to retail sales for state and local tax revenue -- that’s 9% sales tax on cannabis plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and local government. It would also impose an additional tax based on the level of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) . This will range from 0.5 c per milligram for flowers to 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

The legislation eliminates penalties for possession of less than three ounces of cannabis and will expunge records of people with past convictions for marijuana-related offenses that will be decriminalized.

The state would also provide loans, grants and incubator programs to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by people from minority communities, as well as small farmers, women and disabled veterans.

OCM would issue licenses for different steps of the supply chain, including farming, processing, distribution, dispensary and retail "consumption" sites. It would have a two-tier licensing structure that would separate growers and processors from those owning retail stores. OCM would be an independent office operating as part of the New York State Liquor Authority.

"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," said Cuomo.

Bill sponsor Senator Liz Kreuger said: “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.”

The legislation is expected to create jobs and bring in millions of tax dollars. Cuomo’s office said that the development of the industry in New York has the potential to create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs and the ability to earn $350 million annually in tax collections. It is expected to take effect immediately, if passed. However, sales would probably take between 18 months to two years to start, according to Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Tax revenue derived from the industry would go to the New York state cannabis revenue fund. The remainder after costs will be split between education (40%), the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund (40%) and the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund (20%).

At least 14 other US states are already allowing residents to legally buy marijuana for recreational use. New Jersey was among the most recent ones to sign a bill to legalize the use of marijuana for those 21 years or older and decriminalize possession of limited amounts of marijuana.

The New York bill allows cities, towns and villages to opt out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by Dec. 31, 2021 or nine months after the effective date of the legislation. They cannot opt out of legalization.

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