New York is the latest state to legalize recreational marijuana

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New Yorkers can now own and use up to 3 ounces of cannabis under a legalization bill signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday, while recreational marijuana sales will not become legal until about 18 months, until the state develops regulations.

Advocates of criminal justice reform hope it will also help correct the inequalities of a system that has locked up people of color for marijuana-related offenses at disproportionate rates. The legislation provides protections for cannabis users in the workplace, housing, family court, and schools, colleges and universities, and sets a target of providing half of the marijuana licenses to those born. of under-represented communities.

“By putting community reinvestment, social equity and justice at the forefront, this law is the new golden standard for nationwide reform efforts,” said Melissa Moore, Director of the State of New York Drug Policy Alliance.

New York will begin to automatically clear criminal records of people with certain previous marijuana-related convictions, and state law enforcement will not be able to arrest or prosecute people for possession of marijuana up to 3 ounces. It’s a step beyond a 2019 law that removed many previous convictions for possession of marijuana and reduced the penalty for possession of small amounts.

The law also immediately allows the consumption of cannabis in public spaces, although New Yorkers cannot smoke or vape marijuana in places prohibited by state law, including workplaces, colleges. and universities, hospitals and within 100 feet of a school.

Although it will take some time for the market to build up, estimates from the trade publication Marijuana Business Daily show that New York City could become the largest on the east coast, generating a potential of $ 2.3 billion in annual sales. ‘here its fourth year.

Cuomo said it could take years to raise around $ 300 million in annual tax revenue, although Republicans are skeptical the state will see as much. California was forced to cut the state’s budget estimate by $ 223 million in 2019 due to slower-than-expected pot sales.

Marijuana tax revenues would first cover the cost of state regulation and enforcement of the marijuana legalization law, with the remainder being distributed among schools, drug treatment and prevention programs. addiction and a fund to invest in vocational skills, adult education, mental health and other services in communities that have borne the brunt of the national and state war on drugs.

New York will establish a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% local and regional tax and another tax based on the level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Senator Liz Krueger, the Senate sponsor of legislation, estimates that marijuana will eventually face an effective tax rate of around 20-21% in New York City.

“In the beginning, the prices for marijuana will be higher because there is less available,” she said. “So the tax rate will actually be lower. As the market matures and there are more products in the legal market, the price with tax will on average be around 20 to 21 percent.

The state will provide loans, grants and incubation programs to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by people from minority communities, as well as smallholder farmers, women and disabled veterans. Krueger said the state could not impose the granting of 50% of licenses on under-represented communities because that could be unconstitutional.

“Fifty percent is a really high bar to try and hit, but if it happened it would be amazing,” said Hillary Peckham, chief operator of Etain Health, a women-owned medical cannabis company in New York. York who is considering applying for a recreational. marijuana license if it becomes legal.

“The next step is to see how the regulations and the program are put in place to actually provide these opportunities,” added Peckham, whose company has four dispensaries in the state.

Social fairness has become a key theme in marijuana legalization in recent years, with new legal states trying to incorporate it and others seeking to compensate for the lack of diversity in the companies they approved earlier. But plans did not go as planned in many places.

Illinois, for example, has been touted for the fairness provisions in its 2019 law. But it has drawn criticism and lawsuits from some black-owned businesses that have been ignored. Illinois has since revised its process to address these issues.

New York joins at least 15 other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, including neighboring New Jersey. Voters decided to legalize the recreational and medical use of marijuana in South Dakota in November, although it is currently under challenge in the state Supreme Court.

Opponents of legalization include law enforcement organizations and groups representing parents, who fear that legalization will encourage the use of marijuana in children and lead to more traffic accidents caused by impaired drivers .

“We are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with the severe youth vaping crisis and the continuing opioid epidemic, this nefarious legislation is counter-intuitive,” several organizations wrote in an open letter to the Beginning of the month.

Proponents who hope legalization will reduce illegal sales say it is already easy for young adults to access marijuana, and there is no clear link between legalization of marijuana and crashes. impaired driving.

Authorities in New York are planning to conduct a study that will examine the extent to which cannabis impairs driving and whether it depends on factors such as weather and metabolism. The law also allows state police to collect revenue from sales to train more officers as “drug recognition experts,” although University of Buffalo professor R. Lorraine Collins , said there is no evidence that these experts can tell if someone is high or not.

The new law allows cities and towns to refuse to authorize adult cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing local law by December 31, 2021, or nine months after the date of registration. entry into force of the legislation. They cannot opt ​​out of legalization.

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