A new bill to legalize marijuana in New York was released on Saturday after lawmakers and the governor finalized a deal that has been negotiated for weeks. Votes in the legislature are now expected to take place in the coming week.
Details about the agreed-upon language started to circulate on Wednesday, but now the text of the legislation has been released—a significant development that comes after lengthy talks between the Senate, Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office.
Sen. Liz Krueger (D), the lead Senate sponsor of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), said in a press release that the newly revised version of her legislation will “legalize adult-use cannabis in a way that foregrounds racial justice, while balancing safety with economic growth, encouraging new small businesses, and significantly diminishing the illegal market.”
“My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities,” she said. “I believe we have achieved that in this bill, as well as addressing the concerns and input of stakeholders across the board. When this bill becomes law, New York will be poised to implement a nation-leading model for what marijuana legalization can look like.”
Assembly Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes (D), who is carrying the bill in her chamber, said the negotiated legislation “provides long awaited marijuana justice for New Yorkers, and makes significant steps and investments to begin to address the generational devastation caused by marijuana prohibition and mass incarceration.”
— Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes (@CPeoplesStokes) March 28, 2021
Cuomo said that “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,” the governor said. “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.”
We have reached an agreement to legalize adult-use cannabis.
Too many New Yorkers have been unfairly penalized for the use & sale of cannabis, arbitrarily arrested & jailed. That time is coming to an end.
I look forward to signing this legislation into law.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 28, 2021
Here’s a summary of the main components of the 128-page New York marijuana legalization bill:
-Adults 21 and older would be able to possess and purchase marijuana products from licensed retailers, which are expected to launch sometime in 2022.
-Effective immediately, there would be no penalties for public possession of up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of marijuana concentrates,
-Adults could also cultivate up to six plants for personal use, three of which could be mature. A maximum of 12 plants could be grown per household with more than one adult. Homegrow would not take effect until regulators set rules for it, and they would have a maximum of six months to do so for medical patients and must do so for adult-use consumers no later than 18 months after the first retail recreational sales begin. Once home cultivation becomes legal, people could store up to five pounds of cannabis at home.
-People with convictions for marijuana-related activity made legal under the legislation would have their records automatically expunged.
-Protections against discrimination in housing, educational access and parental rights would be instituted for people who consume cannabis or work in the marijuana industry.
-A system of licenses for commercial cultivators, processors, distributors, retailers, cooperatives and nurseries would be created, with a prohibition on vertical integration except for microbusinesses and existing medical cannabis operators.
-Social consumption sites and delivery services 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 residents could seek to override such bans via a local referendum process.
-A new Office of Cannabis Management—an independent agency operating as part of the New York State Liquor Authority—would be responsible for regulating the recreational cannabis market as well as the existing medical marijuana and hemp programs and would be overseen by a five-member Cannabis Control Board. Three members would be appointed by the governor, and the Senate and Assembly would appoint one member each.
-The legislation sets a goal of having 50 percent of marijuana business licenses issued to social equity applicants, defined as people from “communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition” as well as 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 that would be split between counties and cities/towns/villages, with 75 percent of the local earnings going to the municipalities and 25 percent to the counties. Marijuana distributors would also face a THC tax based on type of product, as follows: 0.5 cents per milligram for flower, 0.8 cents per milligram for concentrated cannabis and 3 cents per milligram for edibles.
-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.
-Police could not use the odor of cannabis to justify searches.
-The State Department of Health would oversee a study of technologies for detecting cannabis-impaired driving, after which it could approve and certify the use of such a test. Additional funds for drug recognition experts also would be made available.
-Driving while impaired from marijuana would remain a misdemeanor despite early reports that lawmakers had settled on downgrading it to a violation.
-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.
-Smokable hemp flower sales would be allowed.
-Current medical cannabis businesses could participate in the recreational market in exchange for licensing fees that will help to fund the social equity program.
“The legislature finds that existing marihuana laws have not been beneficial to the welfare of the general public,” the bill’s findings section states. “Existing laws have been ineffective in reducing or curbing marihuana use and have instead resulted in devastating collateral consequences including mass incarceration and other complex generational trauma, that inhibit an otherwise law abiding citizen’s ability to access housing, employment opportunities, and other vital services. Existing laws have also created an illicit market which represents a threat to public health and reduces the ability of the legislature to deter the accessing of marihuana by minors. Existing marihuana laws have disproportionately impacted African-American and Latinx communities.”
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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Cuomo said on Wednesday that he and lawmakers were “inches” away from reaching a final deal on the legalization proposal, adding that enacting the reform is a “priority” this year to make the state the “progressive capital of the nation.”
The governor has made several concessions to the legislature that represent large differences from the legalization plan he proposed in his annual budget, accepting provisions allowing home cultivation and directing how to distribute cannabis tax revenue for social equity purposes.
Earlier, he also proposed amendments to his own legislation last month that he hoped would address certain concerns from lawmakers and advocates. Those changes primarily concerned that issues such as social equity funding and criminal penalties for underage marijuana possession.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said in a press release on Saturday that “there were many important aspects of this legislation that needed to be addressed correctly—especially the racial disparities that have plagued our state’s response to marijuana use and distribution as well as ensuring public safety—and I am proud we have reached the finish line.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said legalization “had to be done the right way—in a way that would help not harm our communities that have been devastated by the state’s drug laws.”
“The MRTA does not just legalize the adult use of marijuana,” he said, “but it rights decades of disproportionately targeting people of color, ensures they are included in the legal marijuana industry and reinvests in education and in communities that have been harmed.”
State Attorney General Letitia James (D) said legalization “is a racial and criminal justice imperative” and “a critical step towards a fairer and more just system in New York.”
The legalization of marijuana is a racial and criminal justice imperative.
Last night's announcement is a critical step towards a fairer and more just system in New York, and I look forward to it officially becoming law.
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) March 28, 2021
Peoples-Stokes (D) said earlier this month that talks had been “really good and really fruitful and I’m really encouraged.” In fact, “I’ve never felt this encouraged before.” That’s despite her saying just days earlier that negotiations with the governor’s office over the legalization had become heated to the point of screaming.
In the late stages of the negotiations, lawmakers said that they had reached an “impasse” with the governor over provisions related to impaired driving.
But Stewart-Cousins (D) said on Tuesday that the legislature was “really, really, really close on marijuana” following talks with executive staff office over recent weeks. “We have gotten past the impasse of the impaired driving.”
The legislature has also made clear that, despite the governor’s prior longstanding push to pass legalization through the budget, the issue will be handled as a standalone bill outside of that process. The Senate majority leader confirmed on Tuesday that that’s still the plan.
Krueger said last week that she’s “feeling that there is impetus to get this done as quickly as possible, and I am prepared to do everything in my power to close this out, get this bill to both floors and get it signed by the governor.”
The bill is in. https://t.co/ZwFxLQwmvT
— Senator Liz Krueger (@LizKrueger) March 28, 2021
There’s been speculation that the growing number of sexual harassment allegations against the governor—in addition to controversy over the state’s handling of nursing home COVID-19 death data—would leave him with less political clout to negotiate on behalf of his proposal over that of the lawmakers.
Krueger said that “you can’t ignore the fact that there was an interest in getting the marijuana bill done” on the governor’s end as these allegations were raised. “That seemed to pop up at around the same time.” However, she caveated, “pick a day and another shoe was dropping for the Cuomo administration.”
Another factor working against Cuomo’s negotiating power is that Democrats now have supermajority control over the legislature, which could embolden them to override a potential veto if they were to pass a legalization bill that contained provisions the governor didn’t like.
“We’ve been working on a marijuana bill. I’ve had a number of conversations with members,” the governor said last week. “We’ve been making good progress.”
Legalization advocates are pleased with the new deal.
“At long last, marijuana reform is finally almost a reality in New York State,” Melissa Moore, New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance and member of Start SMART NY Coalition, said in a press release. “Advancing legalization in New York 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, social equity, and justice front and center.”
The Legal Aid Society called the proposal “landmark legislation” that “brings justice to New York State by ending prohibition, expunging conviction records that have curtailed the opportunities of countless predominately young Black and Latinx New Yorkers, and delivers economic justice to ensure that communities who have suffered the brunt of aggressive and disparate marijuana enforcement are first in line to reap the economic gain.”
— The Legal Aid Society (@LegalAidNYC) March 28, 2021
New York lawmakers last month held the first public hearing of the year on proposals to legalize cannabis, specifically focusing on budget implications.
Legislators heard testimony during the joint session from two pro-legalization industry representatives and one opponent. Despite their ideological differences when it comes to legalization in general, all three panelists were critical of Cuomo’s reform proposal. The two reform advocates said they would prefer to advance the MRTA over his legislation.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D)—who would become governor is Cuomo were to resign or be impeached—told Marijuana Moment in a January interview that there would be room for revisions to the current governor’s budget plan, stating that “much of it is going to be negotiated with the legislature, and all these details can be resolved with their input as well.”
This is the third year in a row that Cuomo has included a legalization proposal in his budget plan. The last two times, negotiations with the legislature stalled amid disagreements over certain components such as the tax structure for the market and funding for social equity programs.
There’s growing recognition among lawmakers in the state that legalization is an inevitability.
The top Republican in the New York Assembly said in December that he expects the legislature to legalize cannabis this session.
Cuomo said in November that the “pressure will be on” to end cannabis prohibition in the state following New Jersey voters’ passage of a legalization referendum.
Read the full text of the New York marijuana legalization bill below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Illinois Will ‘Blow Past’ $1 Billion In Legal Marijuana Sales In 2021, Chamber Of Commerce President Says
“Are we going to get to a billion dollars? I think we’re going to blow past the billion dollars based on the experience in smaller states,” the Chamber leader said.
By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square
Illinois’s cannabis industry is growing up fast, with adult-use recreational cannabis sales expected to hit $1 billion by year-end.
In March alone, Illinoisans spent $110 million on recreational marijuana.
Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said one factor contributing to Illinois’ explosive growth is that most neighboring states haven’t legalized marijuana yet.
“What we saw early on in states like Washington and Colorado is they did have demand come in from surrounding states, which frankly benefits our industry and benefits the taxes collected,” Maisch said.
Cannabis sales have already surpassed alcohol’s tax revenues for the state, and Maisch said he thinks $1 billion estimates are conservative.
“Are we going to get to a billion dollars? I think we’re going to blow past the billion dollars based on the experience in smaller states,” Maisch said.
There are only a couple of things that could stop Illinois’ explosive cannabis market growth, Maisch said. He said that policymakers could ruin things by pushing taxes too high as evidenced by the tobacco market.
“As taxes have gone up and up and up, they’ve pushed people all the way into the black market or they’ve created this grey market in which people are ostensibly paying some of the taxes, but they’re still getting sources of tobacco products that avoid much of the tax,” Maisch said.
The other thing that could head off continued growth is other states opening up recreational-use markets.
“So if you start to see surrounding states go to recreational, that’s definitely going to flatten the curve because we’re not going to be pulling in demand from other states,” Maisch said.
Maisch points out some concerns that accompany the explosion of Illinois’s recreational cannabis market including workforce preparedness.
“All of those individuals who are deciding to go ahead and consume this product are really taking themselves out of a lot of job opportunities that they would otherwise be qualified, so there’s a real upside and a downside,” Maisch said.
While it’s easy to track the revenues this industry brings into state coffers, he points out, it will be harder to track the lack of productivity and qualified individuals to operate heavy machinery and other jobs that require employees to pass a drug test.
DEA Finally Ready To End Federal Marijuana Research Monopoly, Agency Notifies Grower Applicants
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Friday notified several companies that it is moving toward approving their applications to become federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.
This is a significant development—and one of the first cannabis-related moves to come out of the Biden administration. There is currently a monopoly on federal cannabis cultivation, with the University of Mississippi having operated the only approved facility for the past half-century.
It was almost five years ago that DEA under President Barack Obama first announced that it was accepting applications for additional manufacturers. No approvals were made during the Trump administration. And the delay in getting acceptances has led to frustration—and in some cases, lawsuits—among applicants.
But on Friday, organizations including the Biopharmaceutical Research Company (BRC), Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) and Groff NA Hemplex LLC were notified by the agency that their requests were conditionally accepted.
“DEA is nearing the end of its review of certain marijuana grower applications, thereby allowing it to soon register additional entities authorized to produce marijuana for research purposes,” DEA said. “Pending final approval, DEA has determined, based on currently available information, that a number of manufacturers’ applications to cultivate marijuana for research needs in the United States appears to be consistent with applicable legal standards and relevant laws. DEA has, therefore, provided a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to these manufacturers as the next step in the approval process.”
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the move, and it’s unclear just how many organizations have received a DEA communication so far.
Matt Zorn, who has represented SRI in a suit against DEA over the processing delays, told Marijuana Moment that the agency explained that it is “moving forward” with the facility’s application and that it appears to be “consistent with public interest” to give the institute the ability to grow marijuana for study purposes.
SRI’s Dr. Sue Sisley is in a process of completing a memorandum of agreement that DEA requested “so that it can be executed and official,” according to a press release.
BRC CEO George Hodgin said in another press release that after being finalized, “this federal license will forever change the trajectory of our business and the medicinal cannabis industry.”
“The DEA’s leadership will set off a nationwide wave of innovative cannabis-derived treatments, unlock valuable intellectual property and create high quality American jobs,” he said. “The BRC team is already familiar with DEA compliance procedures based on our extensive history of controlled substances activity, and our world class staff is ready to hit the ground running on this new business arm that the DEA has authorized.”
DEA said it has presented applicants that appear to meet legal requirements “with an MOA outlining the means by which the applicant and DEA will work together to facilitate the production, storage, packaging, and distribution of marijuana under the new regulations as well as other applicable legal standards and relevant laws.”
“To the extent these MOAs are finalized, DEA anticipates issuing DEA registrations to these manufacturers,” the agency said. “Each applicant will then be authorized to cultivate marijuana—up to its allotted quota—in support of the more than 575 DEA-licensed researchers across the nation.”
DEA said it “will continue to prioritize efforts to evaluate the remaining applications for registration and expects additional approvals in the future” and will publicly post information about approvals as they are finalized.
Following a 2019 suit against DEA by SRI, a court mandated that the agency take steps to process the cultivation license applications, and that legal challenge was dropped after DEA provided a status update.
That suit argued that the marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi is of poor quality, does not reflect the diversity of products available on the commercial market and is therefore inadequate for clinical studies.
That’s also a point that several policymakers have made, and it’s bolstered by research demonstrating that the federal government’s cannabis is genetically closer to hemp than marijuana that consumers can obtain in state-legal markets.
Last year, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary to move forward with licensing approvals due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.
SRI filed another suit against DEA in March, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications. And that was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released last year as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.
Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved
A voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi has been overturned by the state Supreme Court.
On Friday, the court ruled in favor of a Mississippi mayor who filed a legal challenge against the 2020 measure, nullifying its certification by the Secretary of State. The lawsuit was unrelated to the merits of the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules for placing measures on the ballot.
While the court acknowledged that a “strong, if not overwhelming, majority of voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65” to legalize medical cannabis in the state, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s (R) petition was valid for statutory reasons.
Madison’s challenge cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.
The secretary of state and other officials pushed back against the lawsuit and argued that a plain reading of the state Constitution makes it clear that the intention of the district-based requirement was to ensure that signatures were collected in a geographically dispersed manner—and the result of the campaign met that standard.
But in the court’s 6-3 ruling released on Friday, the justices said that their hands were tied. The legislature or administration might be able to fix the procedural ballot issue, but it had to follow the letter of the law.
“We find ourselves presented with the question squarely before us and nowhere to turn but to its answer,” the decision states. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution, we nonetheless must hold that the text of section 273 fails to account for the possibility that has become reality in Mississippi.”
In sum, a Census-driven change in the number of congressional districts in Mississippi “did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions,” meaning there’s no legal way to pass a constitutional ballot initiative in the state.
“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
“We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void,” the court ruled.
One justice who dissented said that the district-based requirement is arbitrary as it concerns Mississippi elections. While the federal government defines the state as having four congressional districts, the state Constitution “lays out the five districts,” and “there have been zero changes to the five districts” as far as the state’s laws are concerned.
In any case, this marks a major defeat for cannabis reform activists in the state who collected more than 214,000 signatures for their initiative. Sixty-eight percent of voters approved a general ballot question on whether to allow medical cannabis, and 74 percent signed off on advocates’ specific measure in a separate question.
“The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi,” Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a press release. “Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end. The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people’s constitutional right.”
“It’s a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn’t matter,” he said.
Today the MS Supreme Court ruled against the state’s ballot initiative process, killing the medical marijuana program 74% of Mississippians voted to pass. This is devastating for not only patients, but voters as a whole. Below is our statement: https://t.co/jrDoJM3K16 pic.twitter.com/AR3xuId3xR
— Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association (@medmarijuanams) May 14, 2021
Under the voter-approved initiative, patients with debilitating medical issues would have been allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal included 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would have been able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
There was an attempt in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the event that the court overruled the voter-approved initiative, but it failed to be enacted by the session’s end.
The Mississippi State Department of Health told WJTV that it will cease work on developing medical cannabis regulations in light of the court ruling.
“However, the agency has certainly learned a lot in the process of putting together a successful medical marijuana program, and we stand ready to help the legislature if it creates a statutory program,” Liz Sharlot, director of the Office of Communications for the department, said.
This is the latest state Supreme Court setback to affect cannabis reform efforts.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.
While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.
In South Dakota, the fate of an adult-use legalization initiative that voters approved last November is also in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court, where a sheriff is challenging its constitutionality based on a single subject rule as well.
Opponents to a Montana marijuana legalization measure that was approved by voters have also filed lawsuits contesting the voter-approved initiative for procedural reasons, arguing that its allocation of revenue violates the state Constitution. While the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, it did not rule on the merits and left the door open to pursuing the case in district and appeals court, which plaintiffs then pursued.
Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below: