This week, New York lawmakers agreed to allow sales of recreational marijuana to adults within the state. This advancement of legislation marked a significant milestone in the proliferation of states recognizing legalized recreational cannabis.
The agreement was reached over the weekend and included provisions to expand existing Medical Marijuana programs. As part of the agreement, recreational licensing and taxation systems will be erected to regulate an industry that is expected to bring the state more than $350 million annually.
Legislators are expected to take a vote on Tuesday of this week. The earliest timeframe within which the bill could pass is believed to be early April. Should the legislation pass, it is expected to take at least another 18 months for programs and regulatory frameworks to be put in place. That leaves a timeframe for coming into effect sometime in mid-2022. That said, the effect of new laws governing legal recreational cannabis would come into effect and essentially cease any legal action against those consuming or cultivating cannabis within the confines of the new law.
Senate sponsor of the bill and chair of the Senate’s finance committee, Senator Liz Krueger, is eager to right the wrongs the war on drugs has inflicted on many of the state’s demographics. Namely, the unbalanced incarceration rate for drug offenses that draws far more heavily from minority communities. Senator Krueger has had a vocal stance on the subject of marijuana legalization and its effects on the minority communities of New York. Her position can be found on the bill’s page of the NY Senate website as, “Marijuana prohibition is a failed policy that disproportionately affects communities of color and wastes valuable law enforcement resources.”
On the subject, she elaborated in a statement to the Associated Press, “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.”
While Krueger is the sponsor of State Bill 854A, she is joined by 24 other senators in introducing the New York State Senate.
Enacts the “marihuana regulation and taxation act”; establishes the cannabis law; defines terms; establishes the New York state cannabis control board and the office of cannabis management; outlines powers and duties thereof; authorizes the lawful use of medical cannabis; authorizes research programs related thereto; establishes a cannabis research license to permit a licensee to produce, process, purchase and/or possess cannabis for certain limited research purposes; relates to adult-use cannabis; authorizes a person to apply for a license to cultivate, process, distribute, deliver or dispense cannabis for sale in this state; relates to the description of cannabis, and the growing of and use of cannabis by persons twenty-one years of age or older; makes technical changes regarding the definition of cannabis; relates to removing certain references to marijuana relating to forfeiture actions; relates to the qualification of certain offenses involving cannabis; exempts certain persons from prosecution for the use, consumption, display, production or distribution of cannabis; relates to the definition of smoking; provides for the licensure of persons authorized to produce, process and sell marihuana; relates to the criminal sale of cannabis; relates to drug paraphernalia; adds a new article on cannabis to the penal law; authorizes a motion for resentence for persons convicted of certain marihuana offenses; levies an excise tax on certain sales of cannabis; creates the New York state cannabis revenue fund, the New York state drug treatment and public education fund and the New York state community grants reinvestment fund.
As part of the legislation, adults in New York who are at least 21 years old can purchase cannabis legally in licensed retail dispensaries. Additionally, New Yorkers could also grow up to three mature and three immature plants for their own personal consumption. The bill does provide for individual municipalities to opt-out of retail sales. If opting out, those local governments forfeit their entitled tax revenue derived from sales. Cities, towns, and villages throughout the state will be able to opt-out of permitting adult-use marijuana dispensaries, retail shops, or on-site consumption licenses by passing their own local laws before the deadline of Dec. 31, 2021. While each municipality may opt-out of adult-use facilities and retail locations, they cannot opt-out of legalization and will have to recognize the state law as it pertains to recreational use and possession.
As it is currently written, Bill 854A sets a 9% sales tax on cannabis. An additional 4% tax will be levied on sales and split between the county and local government. Taxes are further increased based on the potency of cannabis actually being sold. The amount varies based on flower and edible forms of marijuana products. That split is 0.5 cents per milligram for flowers and 3 cents per milligram for edibles.
Possession of fewer than three ounces of cannabis will result in no penalties in the eyes of the law. Prior convictions and criminal records that fall into that bucket of data will be expunged, and such offenses will not be prosecuted moving forward. Prior legislation on the decriminalization of marijuana offered similar language, affording prior cannabis possession convictions to be expunged and reduced penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
The retail route will offer plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs to capitalize on a new market. However, small business is naturally fearful of large conglomerates cornering the market and locking out the small business owner. The authors of B854A have attempted to alleviate those concerns with specific language to ensure that small business licenses will be available and that minority business owners and new entrepreneurs will have a seat at the table.
While these revelations progress towards legalization and offer a breath of fresh air with peace of mind for many, many others share considerable concern at the thought of legalized cannabis in New York State.
On March 11, several organizations, including the Medical Society of the State of NY, New York State Parent Teacher Association, New York Sheriff’s Association, and many others, signed an open letter expressing their concerns, which stated, “We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the serious crisis of youth vaping and the continuing opioid epidemic, this harmful legislation is counterintuitive.”
To abate those concerns the state has agreed to launch several initiatives surrounding the use of cannabis. This includes an education and prevention campaign with the target of reducing the risks that school-aged children will be introduced to cannabis. Additionally, schools will be able to apply for grant funds to complete their own anti-vaping and drug prevention and awareness programs.
Beyond the concerns of how this bill will impact New York’s youth, healthcare and law enforcement watch groups have their own concerns they hope will be addressed.
“I think it’s very important that we approach that challenge [of ascertaining impairment] using science and research and not wishes or unsubstantiated claims,” R. Lorraine Collins, a psychologist and professor of community health and health behavior at the University at Buffalo said, about such law enforcement grants the bill makes available for hiring and training “drug-recognition experts”.
Collins references a 2020 report An American Civil Liberties Union report from 2020. The report revealed that African-Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared to Whites. These findings were based on statistics provided by the FBI.
Collins went on in her statement to the Associated Press, cautioning, “Every New Yorker should be concerned about how these laws will be implemented or how those ways of examining drivers will be implemented in different communities. It’s not likely to be equal.”
Constituents who are interested in expressing opposition to the bill can do so by visiting the NY Senate website, fill out the appropriate online form and submit their completed document with an intent to oppose.