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Saturday, April 17, 2021

New York to legalize recreational marijuana; vote expected within days

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ALBANY, N.Y. – New York lawmakers will vote on a bill to legalize marijuana within days, clearing the way for the state to become the 15th to permit the drug for recreational use.

Senate and Assembly leaders late Saturday announced a three-way agreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on a plan to legalize and regulate cannabis products for adult use in the state, completing a deal that had been on the edge of finalization for weeks.

The agreement was formalized in a bill introduced Saturday night, clearing the way for a vote as soon as Tuesday — or sooner if Cuomo decides to waive an otherwise mandatory three-day waiting period.

The legislation is expected to pass the Democrat-controlled Legislature, and Cuomo has pledged support as well.

Among the highlights of the newly introduced Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act:

  • New York will launch a new state Office of Cannabis Management to oversee the marijuana industry, licensing growers and sellers and even clearing the way for cannabis lounges where customers can use marijuana products on premises.
  • Once approved, retail marijuana sales — which would likely be a year or more away as the state gets its regulatory structure up and running — would be taxed at 13%, with 9% going to the state and 4% going to local and county governments.
  • Each New York resident over the age of 21 will also be permitted to grow up to three mature and three immature plants at their home at a time, with a maximum of six mature and six immature plants per household, according to the bill.
  • Criminal penalties for possession of less than three ounces of marijuana would be removed, and those with prior convictions would see their records automatically expunged.

The agreement was announced Saturday night by Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, who are sponsoring the legislation.

“I am very proud that we finally have a three-way agreed bill to legalize adult-use cannabis in a way that foregrounds racial justice, while balancing safety with economic growth, encouraging new small businesses, and significantly diminishing the illegal market,” Krueger said in a statement.

Vote expected in the coming week

The Senate and Assembly were formally printing the bill Saturday night. It is expected to be put to a vote in the coming week.

“I am honored to sponsor this legislation and excited to see the positive impact it will have for so many New Yorkers,” Peoples-Stokes said.

Under the measure, 40% of the tax revenue collected — expected to top $300 million once fully up and running — will be reserved for schools and education, with another 20% going to drug treatment and prevention programs, according to the lawmakers.

The remaining 40% will go to a grant program for communities that were disproportionately affected by tough drug laws, including Black and Brown communities that saw people convicted of marijuana crimes at far higher rates than white communities.

Passage of the bill would begin a process of erecting a regulatory structure that will take many months to get into place, meaning legal recreational marijuana sales likely won’t begin until some time in 2022.

Cities, towns and villages, meanwhile, will have the ability to opt out of having marijuana dispensaries and on-premises consumption sites within their borders.

In order to opt out, the local government would have to pass a local law banning such facilities by the end of this year, according to the bill.

Years of debate led to legalization

The bill was the product of years of push-and-pull negotiations in Albany, where lawmakers and Cuomo had grown increasingly supportive of recreational marijuana.

Cuomo, who has been facing mounting harassment and COVID-19 scandals that threaten his political future, had been opposed to legalization until 2018, when he embraced the idea for the first time as he wrapped his second term in office.

Krueger and Peoples-Stokes had been the lead negotiators for their respective houses, working to find consensus on thorny issues, including disagreements over impaired driving detection that had held up a final agreement in recent weeks.

But the negotiations ultimately led to Saturday’s consensus, clearing the way for an historic vote in the coming days.

More: Andrew Cuomo’s changing position on marijuana: A timeline

Follow Jon Campbell on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.

Disclaimer: The Post New York to legalize recreational marijuana; vote expected within days was first Published by New York State Team on rssfeeds.usatoday.com.

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