What You Need to Know About Marijuana Legalization in New York

New York is about to join 16 other states that have legalized marijuana since 2012.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State legislature have ironed out an agreement to legalize marijuana, including home grow and 50% equity, that will likely be voted on early next week.

Cuomo and lawmakers had been at odds over the language of legalization for several years. Rather than adopt the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger, Cuomo proposed his own measure, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act. MRTA was preferred by drug-policy reform groups.

But in the last few weeks as calls have grown for Cuomo to resign due to a number of scandals, the governor has doubled down on marijuana and agreed to moving this along to its fruition.

"His political fortunes played a role in this," Kris Krane noted on Marijuana Tomorrow via Clubhouse. "It was low-hanging fruit. He had the incentive to get it done this time."

Here are the highlights, released by Krueger on March 27:

• Dedicating 40% of revenue to reinvestment in communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war, with 40% to schools and public education, and 20% to drug treatment, prevention and education.

• Equity programs providing loans, grants and incubator programs to ensure broad opportunities for participation in the new legal industry by people from disproportionately impacted communities as well as by small farmers.

• A goal of 50% of licenses going to equity applicants.

• Elimination of penalties for possession of less than three ounces of cannabis.

• Automatic expungement of records for people with previous convictions for activities that are no longer criminalized.

• Establishment of a well-regulated industry to ensure consumers know exactly what they are getting when they purchase cannabis.

New York and Virginia are the next states to turn green on this U.S. marijuana legalization map.

The goals of the legislation are:

• Establishes an Office of Cannabis Management with a board comprised of five members - three appointed by Governor and one by each legislative house, with the chair subject to Senate confirmation.

• Establishes an Executive Director appointed by the Governor subject to Senate confirmation, and a Chief Equity Officer subject to approval by at least four members of the board.

• Establishes a Cannabis Advisory Board representing a broad range of communities of interest, which will be responsible for approving grants from the Community Reinvestment Fund as well as making policy recommendations and reporting on the state of the cannabis program.

• Grants the Office of Cannabis Management powers to evaluate license applicants use a broad range of metrics, including social equity status, commitment to environmentally sound policies, public health and fair labor practices.

• Expands the medical cannabis program allowing for additional licensees, expanded patient access, and a broader range of product types (including flower and edibles).

• Allows current Registered Organizations limited access to the adult use market in exchange for licensing fees that will help fund equity programs. The legislation prohibits vertical integration for all other licensees except micro-businesses to protect the retail sector from being controlled by larger cannabis producers, and establishes a goal of 50% of licenses going to equity applicants.

• Allows limited homegrow of three mature and three immature plants per adult for both medical patients and in the adult use program, with a maximum of six mature and six immature plants per household, subject to regulation by the Office of Cannabis Management. Patients or caregivers can start cultivating six months after the enactment of the law; rec growers have to wait 18 months, meaning until 2022.

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

• Allows for localities to opt out of retail sales at the city, town, and village level.

• Sets a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and city/town/village, plus an additional tax based on THC content as follows: 0.5 cents per milligram for flower, 0.8 cents per milligram for concentrated cannabis, and three cents per milligram for edibles.

On March 28, Cuomo officially announced the "agreement to legalize adult-use cannabis," stating:

"For generations, too many New Yorkers have been unfairly penalized for the use and sale of adult-use cannabis, arbitrarily arrested and jailed with harsh mandatory minimum sentences. After years of tireless advocacy and extraordinarily hard work, that time is coming to an end in New York State. Legalizing adult-use cannabis isn't just about creating a new market that will provide jobs and benefit the economy - it's also about justice for long-marginalized communities and ensuring those who've been unfairly penalized in the past will now get a chance to benefit. I look forward to signing this legislation into law." 


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Cuomo's press release focuses on 11 provisions of the New York State Cannabis/Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (S.854-A/A.1248-A):

Establish the Office of Cannabis Management: The Office of Cannabis Management would be charged with enforcing a comprehensive regulatory framework governing medical, adult-use cannabinoid hemp. It would be governed by a five-member board, with three members appointed by the Governor and one appointment by each house. OCM would be an independent office operating as part of the New York State Liquor Authority.

Medical Cannabis: The agreement would allow people with a larger 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. 

Adult-Use Cannabis: The agreement would create a two-tier licensing structure that would allow for a large range of producers by separating those growers and processors from also owning retail stores. The legislation creates licenses for producers and distributors, among other entities, and the legislation will implement strict quality control, public health and consumer protections. A social and economic equity program would facilitate individuals disproportionally impacted by cannabis enforcement, including creating a goal of 50% of licenses to go to a minority or woman owned business enterprise, or distressed farmers or service-disabled veterans to encourage participation in the industry. 

The Bill proposes a new cannabis tax structure that would replace a weight-based tax with a tax per mg of THC at the distributor level with different rates depending on final product type. The wholesale excise tax would be moved to the retail level with a 9% state excise tax. The local excise tax rate would be 4% of the retail price. Counties would receive 25% of the local retail tax revenue and 75% would go to the municipality. 

Cannabinoid Hemp: The agreement would permit the sale of hemp flower in the cannabinoid hemp program, and allow for smokeable forms only when adult use retail stores are operational.

Adult-Use Cannabis Tax Revenue: All cannabis taxes would be deposited in the New York state cannabis revenue fund. Revenue covers reasonable costs to administer the program and implement the law. The remaining funding would be split three ways:

° 40% to Education

° 40% to Community Grants Reinvestment Fund

° 20% to Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund 

Municipal Opt-Out: 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. They cannot opt-out of adult-use legalization.

Traffic Safety: The New York State Department of Health 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 includes additional funding for drug recognition experts and law enforcement to ensure safe roadways. 

The use of cannabis by drivers will remain prohibited. 

Personal Possession and Home Cultivation

The following conditions apply to growing cannabis at home and personal possession of cannabis outside the home:

° Personal possession outside of the home: up to three ounces cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate

° Home possession: Amending limits of what is permitted in the home, which must be kept in a secure location away from children

° Home grow: permitted under the bill subject to possession limits in 18 months for adult recreational use and subject to regulations of the Medical Program being promulgated no sooner than six months:

     ≈ three mature plants and three immature plants for adults over 21

     ≈ six mature plants and six immature plants maximum per household

Criminal Justice and Record Expungement

The cannabis penalty framework would be restructured to avoid the criminalization seen in prohibition. Reduced penalties would be implemented for possession and sale.

° Creates automatic expungement or resentencing for anyone with a previous marijuana conviction that would now be legal under the law and provides necessary funding

° Adds cannabis to the clean indoor air act which establishes a baseline on where cannabis can be smoked or vaped

° Municipalities and local governments are permitted to make laws that are more restrictive than the CIAA. Contains various provisions to ensure that cannabis is treated as a lawful substance and to prevent discriminatory enforcement

Protections for the Use of Cannabis and Workplace Safety

Unlawful discrimination would be prohibited and workplace safety protections would be implemented.

Public Health and Education Campaign

OCM will establish a robust public health and education campaign and work with neighboring states and associations to coordinate actions and policies to protect regional health and safety. 

Statements from advocates:

• Melissa Moore, New York State director, Drug Policy Alliance:

“At long last, marijuana reform is finally almost a reality in New York State. Through the tireless work of people impacted by prohibition, advocates, and champion lawmakers, like Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, New York is on the precipice of ushering in a new era of marijuana justice. Advancing legalization in NY also puts another nail in the coffin of the war on drugs that has devastated so many communities across the state. By comprehensively addressing the harms of past criminalization, this legislation will create one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization programs in the country. It is setting a national model for reform with community reinvestment, equity, and justice front and center. We will continue to work with lawmakers to ensure the best possible outcome for all New Yorkers and look forward to the Legislature swiftly passing the bill and the Governor's signature on these historic reforms."

• Troy Smit, deputy director, Empire State NORML:

“As a consumer advocacy organization, Empire State NORML is thrilled to see the negotiated bill by Senator Krueger that reflects marijuana justice and the interests of the cannabis consumers. For too long, the lives of New Yorkers in low-income and communities of color across the state have been ruined by our state's draconian enforcement of harmful prohibitionist policies. We sincerely hope that the New York State Legislature passes this bill. This new version of the bill will be a step in the right direction towards a framework that respects the cannabis consumers' freedom to use a harmless plant."

Don't get too excited yet. All the details are not worked out and several Democrats are still on the fence. Empire State NORML, Start SMART-NY nd Cannabis Votr Project posted the following tweets:

This article was posted on March 24. It has been updated several times.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.