Gov. Cuomo signs marijuana bill into law

ALBANY — Recreational marijuana sales and use for adults 21 years of age and older is legal in New York after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill Wednesday morning.

Legislators voted to pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, S.854-A/A.1248-A, late Tuesday night after hours of debate.

The historic measure immediately expunges previous marijuana-related convictions from New Yorkers’ records.

“This is a historic day in New York - one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday after signing the bill. “This was one of my top priorities in this year’s State of the State agenda and I’m proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis. I thank both the Leader and the Speaker, and the tireless advocacy of so many for helping make today’s historic day possible.”

Assemblymembers discussed the bill for more than six hours, passing the measure after 10 p.m.

Gov. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx; and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, announced a deal to legalize adult-use cannabis late Saturday.

“Passage of this bill will mean not just legalizing marijuana, but also investing in education and our communities, and it brings to an end decades of disproportionately targeting people of color under state and federal drug laws,” Assembly Speaker Heastie said. “I thank Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes for her years of advocacy and efforts to make this bill a reality. My colleagues and I 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.”

Recreational marijuana sales are expected to begin in the state in about 18 months.

Legalization will include a 13% cannabis excise tax, with 4% split between the county of sale — 1% — and 3% slated for the municipality of the dispensary.

Nine percent of the sales price will go to the Cannabis Revenue Fund, which will be used to fund the Office of Cannabis Management and cover the costs of state agencies to apply and adapt to the MRTA. After administrative costs, 40% will go to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, 40% will support general education through the State Lottery Fund and 20% will be allocated to the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund.

“Today, New York stepped up and took transformative action to end the prohibition of adult-use marijuana,” Stewart-Cousins said. “This legislation is a momentous first step in addressing the racial disparities caused by the war on drugs that has plagued our state for too long. This effort was years in the making and we have finally achieved what many thought was impossible, a bill that legalizes marijuana while standing up for social equity, enhancing education and protecting public safety.”

Marijuana sales are expected to bring $350 million to the state per year, and the industry could create between 30,000 and 60,000 jobs.

Republicans largely oppose the measure, and cited public safety and health concerns during Tuesday’s debates.

“Many are going to celebrate the passage of the ‘Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, but we didn’t solve any problems today, we only created new ones,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, said in a statement.“Democrats will claim victory, but they ignore the inherent dangers associated with their decision. Legalizing marijuana guarantees young people will have greater access to a drug they shouldn’t be anywhere near. The minute this becomes readily available, the safety risks in our communities and on our roadways will increase exponentially.”

Barclay criticized leaders for rushing the measure because of the state’s $15 billion revenue deficit. “While this may eventually improve the state’s bottom line, it will come at the expense of public health and safety,” Barclay said. “Over the past year, we have seen our friends, families and neighbors struggle in more ways than one: Reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, fighting health issues associated with smoking and the ongoing battle of the opioid epidemic. This legislation is harmful and counterintuitive to combating addiction and decades-long anti-drug efforts. Simply put, today’s vote to legalize marijuana was a step in the wrong direction.”

Representatives from the GLOW region expressed frustration at a deal they said was negotiated behind closed doors and that ignored concerns from law enforcement, and public health officials.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, said the law “has no basis in justice or science, and I fear that the revenue this bill projects our legal marijuana program will bring in has blinded them to the real costs of this legislation.”

“What we know is that in other states, driver impairment rates have risen nearly universally, and these factors have caused states like Colorado to pay about four dollars in damages for every dollar earned in revenue,” Hawley said in a statement. “The passage of this legislation will come with real consequences that we will be left to pay for in the years to come, both financially and in terms of human health and human lives. ”

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said that “during the health crisis of our lifetime, we should know better than to dismiss the concerns of our medical experts. “

“This backroom deal rejected input from key stakeholders, necessary to address the many flaws in this legislation,” he said, noting that law enforcement officers and district attorneys “have raised serious concerns about the impact this legislation will have on our communities.”

“Further, workplace safety concerns were largely disregarded, putting people at risk and making New York more hostile for businesses,” he said.

State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, a former state trooper and Erie County Sheriff, echoed Ortt’s concerns. The law, he said, “ignores the serious concerns raised by the law enforcement community, public health officials and educational experts.

“The bill does not adequately address impaired driving and enforcement, workplace safety and the long-term impact of marijuana use,” he said. “It also sends a mixed message about smoking, drug use and the danger of addiction.“

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, said the legislation was “a profound mistake that will have serious economic and social costs for our state and residents.

“Right now, 14 other states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized adult-use marijuana. Several of those, such as Colorado and Washington, have laws that have been in place for nearly a decade. There is ample data and evidence from those states that raises numerous red flags. We know that following legalization, states have seen concerning spikes in a number of problems, including marijuana-involved car accidents, marijuana use among teens and rates of mental illness,” he said.

Borrello said without stronger penalties or funding to address expected increase in impaired driving or funding to increase the number of drug recognition offers at police departments, the bill is a failure.

“While public polls may show support for legalizing recreational marijuana, it’s our job to ensure that it’s done responsibly – to tune out the noise and focus on good policy, while rejecting misguided ideas that only serve to placate special interests.,” he said. “The litmus test for any legislation should be whether it protects New Yorkers, first and foremost. This bill fails on that count.”

“However, while I am personally opposed to legalization, if New York is determined to head down this path, then I believe we have a responsibility to craft a law that mitigates the risks to New Yorkers to the greatest extent possible, with no loopholes or gray areas. Regrettably, this bill doesn’t meet that standard.”

The bill provides funding for training drug recognition officers and expands traffic safety protections, including the development of roadside testing technology.

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