New York City, NY

New York Legalizes Recreational Use of Marijuana

Sulabh Gupta

New York City, NY - Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Wednesday, 31st March 2021, that allows recreational marijuana use by adults 21 and older. The state senate and assembly voted to approve the new legislation that is expected to bring a lot of revenue for the state. The new legislation also means that people convicted of marijuana-related crimes will have their convictions wiped.

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Senate Bill S854A got 40 votes in favor and 23 against it in the senate. The Assembly approved it with 100 votes in favor and 49 votes against it during a late-night vote on Tuesday.

"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," said Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The passing of the bill makes New York the 15th state in the country to allow recreational marijuana use. The new legislation will allow individuals to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis for recreational use or 24 grams of concentrated form products like oils. New Yorkers are now allowed to smoke marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is permitted. However, it is still illegal to smoke marijuana in schools, workplaces, or cars. Certain cities will also ban smoking marijuana in parks, beaches, and playgrounds.

What the proponents of the new law have to say?

A lot of people who support the law see the new bill as a war on drugs. Also, the new bill will be life transforming for people previously arrested for marijuana-related offenses as their records will be wiped clean of these crimes. According to the FBI data, in 2019, the police made more arrests for marijuana-related crimes than for all other violent crimes combined - 92 percent of which were just for possession. Job and loan prospects for such folks would definitely improve.

"We are providing marijuana justice by ensuring investment into the lives and communities of those who suffered for generations as a result of mass incarceration," said the bill's Assembly sponsor and majority leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes.

The law is also expected to generate $350 million in revenue each year (Source: NY Times) along with 30,000 to 60,000 jobs. The lawmakers want to use 40 percent of this revenue towards the development of communities most hurt by drugs and the rest for public education and drug treatment and prevention.

Also, the government wants to closely regulate the industry and promises more "social equity" to benefit minorities, women, veterans, and farmers by rewarding half of the licenses to such applicants with a priority to applicants with previous marijuana-related convictions.

What the critics have to say?

While marijuana is believed to be far less deadly than tobacco and alcohol, it still comes with risks. The risk comes from the fact that there is still a lot of research that needs to be done to understand the benefits and harmful effects of marijuana. Most of the researchers being done so far are sponsored by the marijuana companies and therefore the skeptics understandably don't want to take the research companies at their word. Furthermore, the federal government still qualifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug - the highest level of restriction which adds to even more confusion.

The critics are also concerned about the issue of road safety. While the law enforcement officers have clear guidelines about the limits of alcohol, there is no easy way for them to check the level of intoxication that is deemed safe for cannabis. Several critics are also concerned about an increase in the risk of children accidentally ingesting marijuana edibles or candies.

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