New York passes Recreational Marijuana bill

After years of debate, the New York State Legislature passed Tuesday a bill legalizing recreational use of marijuana for adults ages 21 and older.

Albany lawmakers hope the estimated $350 million in annual tax revenue generated from sales through licensed weed shops will help plug the hole that the coronavirus pandemic and its ensuing economic turmoil blew in the state budget. The bill allows for possession of up to 3 ounces pot and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signaled that he plans to sign the bill into law.

“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,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The bill creates the Office of Cannabis Management, an independent agency that will regulate the industry with separate licenses for retailers and distributors.

It will also expand the list of medical conditions to access medical marijuana, increase the number of caregivers allowed per patient, and permit home cultivation of medical cannabis for patients.

Cities, towns, and villages may opt-out of allowing cannabis retailers or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by Dec. 31, but they cannot opt-out of adult-use legalization.

Forty percent of the tax revenue will be earmarked for education, another 40 percent will go to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, and 20 percent will fund a Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund.

Driving while under the influence of marijuana will remain a crime and the state Department of Health will study how to devise a test for law enforcement to check if drivers are impaired by cannabis.

The legislation also will automatically expunge or resentence anyone with a previous marijuana conviction and establish a baseline on where cannabis can be smoked or vaped in public, similar to tobacco and vaping rules.

“This might not be the perfect piece of legislation, but today, cannabis consumers can hold their heads high and smell the flowers,” said Troy Smit, deputy director of the state affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and founder of Long Island NORML. “Now, it’s time for the Office of Cannabis Management to take up their torch and implement regulations that protect patient and consumer rights.”

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