Legalization (Finally) Set to Become Reality in New York

This blog first appeared on my copywriting website, Jessica Reilly, Writer.

Let the good times roll.

In New York, legalization is finally set to become a reality.

After years of lagging behind other progressive states, the Governor and the lawmakers have finally reached an agreement (this article will not be commenting on the Governor outside the discussion of cannabis legalization).

When signed, it would make New York the 15th state in the nation to legalize recreation weed. This comes on the heels of New Jersey legalization in 2020, which followed Massachusetts in 2016. Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are set to follow suit this year as well.

The final version of the law has not been released yet, and may be subject to changes before signing. It’s expected to be signed by April 1, with some estimates putting it as early as Saturday.

So what do New Yorkers have to look forward to?

Fast Facts of Legalization in NY

  • Adults 21+
  • Personal possession of up to three ounces
  • Home growing of 6 plants per person, or up to 12 plants per household
  • Sales starting as early as December 2022
  • 13% tax
    • 9% to the state
    • 4 % to local governments
  • Establishes the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) which would be controlled by a Cannabis Control Board
    • The board would have 5 members; 3 appointed by the governor and one each from the State Assembly and Senate.
  • Tax revenue from weed sales would first go towards OCM operations and police training. The remaining revenue would be distributed as such:
    • 40% to toward school aid (State Lottery Fund for Education)
    • 40% to fund establishing grants for social equity (Community Grants Reinvestment Fund)
    • 20% to drug-treatment and public-education programs (Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund)
  • Distributors pay an excise tax, up to 3 cents per milligram of THC on a sliding scale of potency
  • Cities, towns, and villages can choose not to approve retail and delivery weed
    • This can be overridden at the ballot box by residents

A Deeper Look at Cannabis Legalization in NY

New York has failed to seal the deal on legalization for 3 years, with the governor clashing with the legislature on how to use the funds from cannabis sales. He wanted the state to retain control of the funds, while Democrats in the legislature pushed on back on his failure to set aside enough of the money for minority communities. His initial proposal this year was criticized for unequal funding opportunities for rural and minority business owners, the inability for home growing, and refusal to grant delivery services.

The current measure is based largely on the long-stalled Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which does address delivery services, restorative justice and home growing.

Crucially, the MRTA provides a “comprehensive mechanism to automatically expunge past convictions under the criminal laws that the bill would repeal.” It also has a specific license category for businesses to permit on-site consumption and requires 50% of licenses be given to “social equity applicants”. These applicants include:

  • People with past marijuana convictions
  • People with relatives with convictions
  • Those living in economically distressed areas or places where cannabis criminalization has been enforced in a discriminatory manner.
  • Minority- and women-owned businesses
  • Disables veterans
  • Financially distressed farmers

The bill also expands the illnesses eligible for medical marijuana, allows patients to obtain smokable products and obtain a 60-day, rather than 30-day supply.

The allocation of the cannabis revenue is cause for cautious celebration, with money allocated to the State Lottery Fund for Education, the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund and the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund. The memo from the state said the purpose of these grants are for “qualified community-based organizations and approved local government entities to reinvest in communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies.” There is no true legalization with restorative movement, so this is a step in the right direction.

How would licensing work?

Thought MRTA specifically includes social equity measures in the licensing, the measure as it currently stands still gives corporations the upper hand.

There are 10 corporations licensed in the state to sell medical cannabis, 5 of which make up some of the largest multi-state cannabis operators in the country. Since the deal increases the number of medical dispensaries, products that can be sold, and allows for up to 4 addition sites for existing companies, those with deep pockets have a large advantage.

In its current state, there is a 3-tier licensing structure, similar to alcohol. It separates growers, wholesalers and retailers. Licensing for all steps of the process will be hard to come by, but smaller businesses will benefit from vertical integration that would allow them to be licensed across operations.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes commented that the bill was designed to allow people who have sold marijuana illegally in the past to have a chance to gain a legal sales license. But with large companies posed to jump on the newly opened market, how with NYS prioritizes licensing distribution to minority- and women-owned businesses in a timely manner? It’s all about the roll (out).

Where it falls short

First, home growers won’t be allowed to sprout seeds until 18 months after the first dispensary opens. With sales still at least a year away, we’re looking at mid-2024 before home growing is legal. That’s a little ridiculous.

The bill also stipulates only 3 plants can be mature enough to be flower-bearing, though it will be interesting to see how this is enforced in private homes.

As always, there’s questions surrounding law enforcement. While police officers would be allowed to justify suspicious of intoxication by cannabis odor, they would not be allowed to use odor as justification for searching the car.

Cannabis impairment will be included in “Driving While Ability Impaired” which is an infraction of the lowest degree in the “Driving While Intoxicated” statute. There is no scientific consensus on how driving high impairs drivers, as weed affects everyone differently. What will the training for police officers look like?

Additionally, I have seen nothing in these articles or indeed the memo that speak to the release of all individual’s incarceration for non-violent cannabis charge. This is a crucial step for restorative justice, particularly in Black and minority communities who suffered a disproportionate amount during the War on Drugs. (In 2020, 93% of people arrested or ticketed NYC for cannabis offenses were Black and Latinx.)

This is a major step in the right direction for New York, a state that is usually among the top in the nation for progressive policies. But this is by no means the end of the fight. Even once legalized, we still have work to do.

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