After months of negotiations, New York lawmakers and the governor have reached a tentative deal on a bill to legalize marijuana in the state.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) have repeatedly touted progress in negotiations and signaled that an agreement was forthcoming in recent weeks, and details about the specific provisions of the legislation finally began to circulate in press reports from The Buffalo News, Bloomberg, The Democrat & Chronicle and others on Wednesday afternoon—though the final bill text is not yet available and certain provisions could still be changed.
Votes on the proposal could come as early as next week. The legislature and Cuomo have worked to approve the reform sooner rather than later, and it seems they’re on track to advance it before the April 1 budget deadline, even though the bill is being handled outside that process.
Here’s what the legalization legislation is expected to contain, according to press reports:
-Adults 21 and older would be able to possess and purchase marijuana products from licensed retailers, which would launch in December 2022.
-They could also cultivate up to six plants for personal use, only three of which could be mature. A maximum of 12 plants could be grown per household with more than one adult. Municipalities couldn’t ban people from growing their own, but they could impose regulations. Registered medical cannabis patients would be allowed to start growing plants six months after the law takes effect, while adult-use consumers would have to wait 18 months after the first marijuana retailer launches.
-A five-member New York State Cannabis Control Board would be responsible for regulating the cannabis market. Three members would be appointed by the governor, and the Senate and Assembly would appoint one member each.
-Social consumption sites would be permitted.
-Individual jurisdictions would be allowed to opt out of allowing retailers or social consumption sites by the end of this year, but voters could overturn bans via local ballot measures.
-In general, there would be a three-tier licensing structure, separating growers, wholesalers and retailers similar to alcohol, though there would be certain exceptions allowing microbusinesses to be vertically integrated.
-The legislation sets a goal of having 50 percent of marijuana business licenses for distribution and retail issued to social equity applicants, including people with past marijuana convictions or who have relatives with such records as well as those living in economically distressed areas or places where cannabis criminalization has been enforced in a discriminatory manner. Equity applicants would also include minority- and women-owned businesses, disabled veterans and financially distressed farmers.
-Cannabis products would be subject to a state tax of nine percent, plus an additional four percent local tax.
-Marijuana distributors would also face a THC tax on flowers, concentrate and edibles—applied on a sliding scale based on type of product, up to three cents per milligram.
-Tax revenue from marijuana sales would cover the costs of administering the program. After that, 40 percent of the remaining dollars would go to a community reinvestment fund, 40 percent would support the state’s public schools and 20 percent would fund drug treatment facilities and public education programs.
-The state Health Department would be required to study devices that are supposed to test saliva to determine if a person is impaired from marijuana, though there’s skepticism among lawmakers about the effectiveness of such technology.
-Police would be allowed to use the odor of cannabis to identify impairment, though they could not use it to justify a search a vehicle.
-Driving while impaired from marijuana would result in a violation, rather than a misdemeanor. However, that component may be further revised before the final bill is released.
-The state’s existing medical cannabis program would also be changed to expand the list of qualifying conditions and allow patients to smoke marijuana products. Patients could also obtain a 60-day, rather than 30-day, supply.
-Existing medical cannabis dispensaries would be allowed to open four additional shops, as long as at least two are located in underserved communities. They could also add two adult-use retail locations.
“I believe New York is the progressive capital of the nation—not just because we say it is but because we perform that way. And legalizing cannabis is this year’s priority to be the progressive capital of the nation,” Cuomo said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday. “We won’t be the first, but our program will be the best.”
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.