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New York legalizes recreational marijuana, expunges former pot convictions


By Ivan Pereira, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — The New York state legislature formally voted to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana for adults and expunge the records of people previously convicted of possession.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the New York State Assembly voted 100-49 to pass the marijuana legalization bill.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has previously said he will sign the bill into law once it reaches his desk, and on Tuesday night, he reiterated that plan.

“Tonight, the New York State Legislature took the first step in a major leap forward for the Empire State by passing legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis,” he said in a statement. “For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences and after years of hard work, this landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public.”

“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 added. “I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”

Under the final legislation, 3 ounces of marijuana will be legal to possess for New Yorkers over 21 and the substance will have a 13% sales tax. The tax revenues will be broken up with 9% going to the state and 4% going to localities, according to the legislation.

Jawanza James Williams, the director of organizing at VOCAL-NY, said in a statement Tuesday night, “Today, the Assembly and the Senate modeled what democracy actually looks like when the legislature allows progressive movements to lead towards justice. Our movement did not fight simply for legalization’s sake, but worked for years to craft legislation rooted in racial and economic justice, in an effort to repair harms while also setting a new standard for anti-racist, class-conscious, and gender-expansive policymaking.”

“This is a massive success for all New Yorkers, especially the Black and brown survivors of racist prohibition,” Williams added.

The governor’s office said as many as 60,000 new jobs could be created and the state will generate $350 million in revenue annually, as a result of the new laws.

Residents will also be allowed to grow marijuana at home, with a limit of three mature plants for adults over 21 and six mature plants per household.

Anyone previously convicted of possessing an amount of marijuana now under the legal limit will automatically be subject to expungement and resentencing.

“We applaud the New York Legislature and the tireless work of advocates for their commitment to ending cannabis prohibition through a social justice-centered approach,” said Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project. “We expect 2021 to be a record-breaking year for legislatures legalizing cannabis. More than two-thirds of Americans believe it’s time to end prohibition and this move represents the latest example of elected officials joining the chorus of support for legalizing and regulating cannabis for adults.”

Once the bill is signed, New York will be the 15th state to allow for recreational marijuana among adults. Voters chose to legalize marijuana in South Dakota last year, but the amendment is currently tied up in court.

The legislation will create the Office of Cannabis Management, which will regulate the sale and distribution of both recreational and medical marijuana, which was legalized in 2014.

A five-member board will lead the office with three members appointed by the governor and one appointed by each house of the legislature, according to the legislation.

Sales might not start until 2022, as the state will take time to establish its regulatory framework, legislative sources told ABC News.

“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. “For too long, people of color have been disproportionately impacted by an outdated and shortsighted marijuana prohibition, and it’s past time we right this wrong. We must also engineer an economy that will provide a much-needed boost to communities devastated by the war on drugs and COVID-19, and I am hopeful this will help to achieve that for New Yorkers.”

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