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New York Legalizes Marijuana! [FEATURE]

After hours of debate Tuesday, the state Senate voted 40-23 to approve the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) (Senate Bill 854), which would immediately legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and set the stage for a taxed and regulated legal marijuana market. The House followed up hours later, approving the bill on a 100-49 vote.

Riding the New York City subway just got a little happier. (Creative Commons)
An embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) reached an agreement with legislative leaders on the bill over the weekend and has said he will sign it into law. He has 10 days to either do so or veto it or it becomes law without his signature.

Tuesday night, Cuomo said he looked forward to signing the bill. "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.

New York becomes the 16th state to legalize marijuana and the third to do through the legislative process. It is also the second most populous state to do so after California. And, along with legalization in New Jersey earlier this year, the Empire State's decision to end its war on marijuana will undoubtedly add pressure on remaining neighboring pot prohibition states to get on the bandwagon.

Under the bill, people 21 and over will be able to possess up to three ounces and grow up to six plants, three of them mature. Past marijuana possession convictions will be automatically expunged. But legal sales will not commence until a state committee sets up rules and regulations for the nascent industry.

Keen recognition of racial injustice in the prosecution of the war on the drugs guided legislators as they crafted their vision of progressive marijuana law reform. As leading bill supporter state Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) enumerated in a statement after the legislation took final form, it features a strong set of social equity provisions, including:

  • 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.

Krueger, who, along with other legislative leaders and a broad-based coalition of activists, has been trying to get legalization passed since 2013, pronounced herself pleased in a statement after the vote.

"Today is an historic day for New Yorkers," she said. "I could not be more proud to cast my vote to end the failed policies of marijuana prohibition in our state, and begin the process of building a fair and inclusive legal market for adult-use cannabis. It has been a long road to get here, but it will be worth the wait. The bill we have held out for will create a nation-leading model for legalization. New York's program will not just talk the talk on racial justice, it will walk the walk."

In her statement, Krueger gave shout-outs to Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) and to activist groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), both of which have been working the issue for years.

"I am proud to have fought so long for this legislation and to finally see it pass," said Peoples-Stokes. "We are providing marijuana justice by ensuring investment into the lives and communities of those who suffered for generations as a result of mass incarceration. The results will be transformative for people across New York State -- it will create economic and research opportunities, jobs across a wide variety of sectors, and a safe and reliable product."

"This day is certainly a long time coming," DPA executive director Kassandra Frederique said in a statement after the vote. When we started working toward marijuana reform 11 years ago, we knew we had our work cut out for us. Because of the sheer extent of harm that had been inflicted on Black and Brown communities over the years, any marijuana reform that was brought forth had to be equally comprehensive to begin repairing the damage. And I can confidently say, the result is something truly reimaginitive. We went from New York City being the marijuana arrest capital of the country to today New York State coming through as a beacon of hope, showing the rest of the country what comprehensive marijuana reform -- centered in equity, justice and reinvestment -- looks like."

And a new day dawns for New York.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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