Striking a deal

Tribune News Service

ALBANY — Recreational marijuana sales and use for adults 21 years of age and older is legal in New York after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill Wednesday morning.

Legislators voted to pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act late Tuesday night after hours of debate.

The historic measure immediately expunges previous marijuana-related convictions from New Yorkers’ records.

“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 statement Wednesday after signing the bill. “This was one of my top priorities in this year’s State of the State agenda and I’m proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis. I thank both the Leader and the Speaker, and the tireless advocacy of so many for helping make today’s historic day possible.”

Members of the Assembly discussed the bill that immediately expunges previous marijuana-related convictions from New Yorkers’ records for more than six hours, passing the measure after 10 p.m.

Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx; and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers; announced a deal to legalize adult-use cannabis late Saturday.

“Passage of this bill will mean not just legalizing marijuana, but also investing in education and our communities, and it brings to an end decades of disproportionately targeting people of color under state and federal drug laws,” Heastie said. “I thank Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes for her years of advocacy and efforts to make this bill a reality. My colleagues and I knew it was important to do this the right way — in a way that would include those targeted and frequently excluded from the process. Now, this legal industry will create jobs across our state, including for those who have had their lives upended by years of unjust drug laws.”

Recreational marijuana sales are expected to begin in the state in about 18 months.

Legalization will include a 13% cannabis excise tax, with 4% split between the county of sale — 1% — and 3% slated for the municipality of the dispensary.

Nine percent of the sales price will go to the Cannabis Revenue Fund, which will be used to fund the Office of Cannabis Management and cover the costs of state agencies to apply and adapt to the MRTA. After administrative costs, 40% will go to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, 40% will support general education through the State Lottery Fund and 20% will be allocated to the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund.

“Today, New York stepped up and took transformative action to end the prohibition of adult-use marijuana,” Stewart-Cousins said. “This legislation is a momentous first step in addressing the racial disparities caused by the war on drugs that has plagued our state for too long. This effort was years in the making and we have finally achieved what many thought was impossible, a bill that legalizes marijuana while standing up for social equity, enhancing education and protecting public safety.”

Republicans largely oppose the measure, and cited public safety and health concerns during Tuesday’s debates.

“Many are going to celebrate the passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, but we didn’t solve any problems today, we only created new ones,” Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay, R-Pulaski, said in a statement. “Democrats will claim victory, but they ignore the inherent dangers associated with their decision. Legalizing marijuana guarantees young people will have greater access to a drug they shouldn’t be anywhere near. The minute this becomes readily available, the safety risks in our communities and on our roadways will increase exponentially.”

Barclay criticized leaders for rushing the measure because of the state’s $15 billion revenue deficit.

“While this may eventually improve the state’s bottom line, it will come at the expense of public health and safety,” Barclay said. “Over the past year, we have seen our friends, families and neighbors struggle in more ways than one: Reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, fighting health issues associated with smoking and the ongoing battle of the opioid epidemic. This legislation is harmful and counterintuitive to combating addiction and decades-long anti-drug efforts. Simply put, today’s vote to legalize marijuana was a step in the wrong direction.”

Marijuana sales are expected to bring $350 million to the state per year, and the industry could create between 30,000 and 60,000 jobs.

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