ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, launch programs to help communities that bore the brunt of the national and state drug war and eventually allow marijuana sales to people over the age of 21 under a sweeping bill that lawmakers passed Tuesday.
The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has ten days to approve or veto once it lands on his desk — otherwise, the bill becomes law. He has said he will sign it.
The Senate voted 40-23 in favor and the Assembly approved it 100-49.
Criminal justice reform groups and advocates for minority communities where pot was policed hardest have hailed the state’s bill as particularly sweeping: New York would set a target of ensuring 50% of marijuana licenses go to underrepresented communities, and join a handful of states to automatically expunge past marijuana-related convictions. The legislation also provide protections for people from being discriminated for marijuana use in public housing, schools and colleges and the workplace.
“We have literally destroyed the lives of multiple thousands of people,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said. “That’s what’s good about this legislation…. We’re going to turn around the lives of some of those people and help them to be able to take care of themselves, their families and their communities.”
Lawmakers estimate the legislation will eventually bring in $300 million a year to cover the state’s cost of regulating and enforcing the program, with the remainder divided among schools, drug treatment and prevention programs and a fund for investing in job skills, adult education and other services in targeted communities.
“I’m driving this because I want people to be free from incarceration for a drug that people in their communities use every day,” Stokes said.
New York, which has failed to legalize marijuana for years despite Democratic control of the Legislature and governor’s office, would become at least the 16th state to legalize marijuana sales to adults. New York would become the third state where lawmakers, rather than voters, have approved legalization.
Observers say New York’s move, which follows legalization in neighboring Massachusetts and New Jersey, builds momentum for legalization efforts nationwide. Lawmakers in New Mexico returned for a special session Tuesday to tackle recreational marijuana, while Democratic lawmakers in Virginia are negotiating over a push to move up legalization to this summer.
Published: March 31, 2021
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