New York lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday to legalize adult use of marijuana, which will make it the 15th state in the United States to allow recreational use of the drug.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was looking forward to signing the bill into law.
“New York has a storied history of being the progressive capital of the nation, and this important legislation will once again carry on that legacy,” he said in a statement.
New York’s state Senate passed the bill with 40-23 votes, while the Assembly voted 100-49.
The decision was also welcomed by NORML, a pro-marijuana group, which said that tens of thousands of New Yorkers were arrested every year over petty marijuana offenses, and that most were young, poor, and people of color.
“The legalization of marijuana is a racial and criminal justice imperative, and today’s vote is a critical step towards a fairer and more just system,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.
The New York State’s official website recently projected that tax collections from the adult-use cannabis program would reach $350 million annually and also create 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs across the State.
New York would set a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and local government. It would also impose an additional tax based on the level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, ranging from 0.5 cents per milligram for flower to 3 cents per milligram for edibles.
New York would eliminate penalties for possession of less than three ounces of cannabis, and automatically expunge records of people with past convictions for marijuana-related offences that would no longer be criminalized. That’s a step beyond a 2019 law that expunged many past convictions for marijuana possession and reduced the penalty for possessing small amounts.
And New York would provide loans, grants and incubator programs to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by people from minority communities, as well as small farmers, women and disabled veterans.
Some other states that have legalized recreational marijuana have struggled to address the inequities that the drug wars have wrought.
Three years after Massachusetts voters passed a ballot initiative making recreational cannabis legal in the state, Black entrepreneurs complained in 2019 that all but two of Massachusetts’ 184 marijuana business licenses had been issued to white operators.
California voters legalized recreational marijuana sales in 2016 as well and invited people to petition to have old marijuana convictions expunged or reduced. But relatively few people took advantage of the provision initially.
Criminal justice reform advocates said New York’s bill avoids that problem by setting up a process for marijuana convictions to be automatically expunged.
–With files from the Associated Press