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It's Official: NYS Lawmakers Pass Recreational Cannabis Legalization

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Mar 31, 2021

The New York State Senate and Assembly both passed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), which ends the generations-long prohibition on adult-use recreational cannabis in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed it into law.

Under the new law, New Yorkers aged 21 and up can posses up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate outside the home. Within the home, according to the bill's text, one many possess up to five pounds so long as one takes "reasonable steps" to keep it away from those under 21.

Licenses to sell cannabis will come in the form of a two-tiered structure that is meant to prevent growers and distributors from also owning retail stores, according to ABC News.  One can be either a producer or a distributor, not both. Further, the bill seeks to preserve local community control of the dispensaries. It creates a goal of 50 percent of licenses to go to a minority- or woman-owned business enterprises, or distressed farmers or disabled veterans to encourage participation in the industry. 

The bill will impose a 9 percent state sales tax plus a 4 percent local sales tax; counties would receive 25 percent of the local retail tax revenue, and 75 percent would go to the municipality. Wholesalers will get a tax of their own, half a cent per milligram of THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis). For concentrates, the tax is eight-tenths of one cent per milligram; edible products will be taxed three cents per milligram.

“I am very proud to say that we have finally reached a three-way agreement on legalizing 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" said Sen. Liz Krueger (D), the bill's prime sponsor. "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. I believe we have achieved that in this bill, as well as addressing the concerns and input of stakeholders across the board."

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) emphasized the social justice aspects of the bill as well. “Passage of this bill will mean not just legalizing marijuana, but investing in education and our communities, and bring to an end decades of disproportionately targeting people of color under state and federal drug laws,” Heastie said. “The Assembly Majority 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.”

Gov. Cuomo made a similar statement: "For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences and after years of hard work, this landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public."

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