The long, slow burn (sorry) of adult use marijuana legalization in New York is nearing its end as the State Legislature and Governor Cuomo came to terms to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older. The deal would allow delivery of the drug and permit club-like lounges where marijuana, but not alcohol, could be consumed. Also, a person will be allowed to cultivate up to six marijuana plants at home, indoors or outdoors, for personal use. Though legalization may have happened in 2020 if not for the Covid-19 pandemic, once neighboring New Jersey approved adult use of marijuana, New York’s legalization was all but guaranteed.
The first legal sale of marijuana is still probably a year away as legislators must create a highly regulated market regulating wholesalers, dispensaries, licensing, new taxes and a five-member control board that would oversee the industry. The Office of Cannabis Management will be a separate office inside the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA). It must be noted that SLA was disturbingly heavy handed during Covid-19.
New York estimates that legalization will bring in about $350 billion a year in tax revenue and create 30,000-60,000 new jobs once fully implemented (which will take years). However, for Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, who championed the Assembly’s legalization efforts, the bill is designed to making amends to communities impacted by the decades-long war on drugs. 40 percent of tax revenue would be reinvested in minority communities each year, and a sizable portion of business licenses would be reserved for minority business owners. 40 percent of tax revenue would go towards public education and the remaining 20 percent would go toward drug treatment, prevention, and education. The retail sales tax on marijuana will be 13 percent. 9 percent for the state and 4 percent for localities.
The program is designed to allocate half of the business licenses to go to “equity applicants”, Such as disabled veterans, minority- and women-owned businesses, and people who have relatives with a marijuana conviction. To that end, penalties for the possession of less than three ounces of cannabis will be eliminated and the records for people with convictions of formerly illegal activities that are no longer criminal will automatically be expunged.
Cities, towns, and villages may opt-out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by December 31, 2021 or nine months after the effective date of the legislation. However, they cannot opt-out of adult-use legalization.
The issue which proved to be the most contentious in negotiations was that of traffic safety. There are two huge problems in terms of driving and cannabis use. One, frankly, is a misconception that marijuana is completely safe and does not impair a person’s ability to drive. The second, is that unlike alcohol, marijuana can stay in a person’s system for as long as a month, making testing for impairment difficult. OCM, in coordination with neighboring states will establish a robust public health and education campaign. Under the legalization law, The New York State Department of Health (DOH) will work with institutions of higher education to conduct a controlled research study designed to evaluate methodologies and technologies for the detection of cannabis-impaired driving. After completion of the research study, DOH may create and implement rules and regulations to approve and certify a test for the presence of cannabis in drivers. The legislation also includes more funding for drug recognition experts and law enforcement to ensure safe roadways. The use of cannabis by drivers will remain prohibited.