Marijuana legal in new York
(Branding Pot/Shutterstock)

New York State Legalizes Marijuana Usage; Millions in Tax Revenue Will Be Used to Promote Racial Equity

Possessing up to three ounces of cannabis (or marijuana) is now legal in the state of New York.

Luis Ferré-Sadurní of The New York Times has reported that “after years of stalled attempts, New York State has legalized the use of recreational marijuana, enacting a robust program that will reinvest millions of dollars of tax revenues from cannabis in minority communities ravaged by the decades-long war on drugs.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the legislation to legalize the drug on March 31, one day after the State Legislature passed the bill.

According to Ferré-Sadurní, “New York became the 15th state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, positioning itself to quickly become one of the largest markets of legal cannabis in the nation and one of the few states where legalization is directly tied to economic and racial equity.”

Although attempts had been made to pass the legislation in the past, its passage was always stalled by arguments over how the tax revenue from sales would be distributed. This year, however, that matter has finally been resolved. In the new law, 40% of the tax revenue from pot sales will be steered toward Black, Brown and other minority communities. In another big win for state Democrats, people convicted of marijuana-related offenses that are no longer criminalized will also have their records automatically cleared. 

“The law also seeks to allow people with past convictions and those involved in the illicit cannabis market to participate in the new legal market,” Ferré-Sadurní reported.

Speaking on the floor of the lower chamber during the debate of the measure, Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, the Democratic majority leader in the Assembly and sponsor of the bill, said “Unlike any other state in America, this legislation is intentional about equity. Equity is not a second thought. It’s the first one, and it needs to be — because the people who paid the price for this war on drugs have lost so much.”

Among the key points of the new law, as reported by Ferré-Sadurní:

  • Individuals are now allowed to possess up to three ounces of cannabis for recreational purposes or 24 grams of concentrated forms (like oils) of the drug.
  • It will now be legal to smoke cannabis anywhere in public that smoking tobacco is permitted. Smoking cannabis will not, however, be permitted in schools, workplaces or inside a car. Within New York City, it will also be banned in parks, beaches, boardwalks, pedestrian plazas and playgrounds — places where tobacco use is also banned.
  • Although procedures are still being developed, people will be able to have marijuana delivered to their homes. New York City and State also plan to permit lounge-like “consumption sites” where the use of the drug will be encouraged.
  • Residents will be able to cultivate up to six cannabis plants in their own homes for personal use.
  • Dispensaries will be allowed, but they won’t open for at least a year as regulations and licensing procedures for the businesses are developed.
  • Experts expect the state’s recreational marijuana market to eventually generate $350 million — or more — in yearly tax revenue plus thousands of new jobs within the state.

“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,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

Not to be outdone by New York, lawmakers in New Mexico approved a similar measure that would approve marijuana use in that state late in the evening of March 31. The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk, where it is expected to be signed, making the “Land of Enchantment” the 16th state in the nation to legalize cannabis.


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