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New York legalizes recreational marijuana.

Marijuana becomes legal in New York thanks to a legalization bill signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in March. Although the legal sale of recreational cannabis won’t begin for 18 months, the Supreme Court has now approved the law. The measure makes New York the 16th state to legalize adult use of the (soft) drug. New York becomes the second most populous state, after California, to legalize recreational marijuana. Legalization advocates hope the Empire State sets an example to remedy the inequities of a system that has locked up people of color for marijuana offenses at disproportionate rates.

Consequences and objectives of the new legislation

On March 31, 2021, New York legalized recreational marijuana for anyone over 21. The new law allows the possession of up to 85 grams of cannabis and the possibility of growing up to 12 plants. Marijuana consumption becomes legal in all places where smoking tobacco is allowed. The new legislation leads to profound changes at a social and judicial level:

  • Provides protections for cannabis users in the workplace, housing, family courts, schools, colleges and universities.
  • It has a goal of providing half of marijuana licenses to individuals from underrepresented communities.
  • New York will automatically begin expunging some past marijuana-related convictions, and people will not be arrested or prosecuted for possession of up to 3 ounces of pot. A 2019 law has already expunged many past convictions and reduced the penalty for possessing small amounts.
  • It also provides for the use of profits from the product, legally placed on the market and taxed, for schools, healthcare and to support the most disadvantaged communities.

In one move, New Yorkers 21 and older can now smoke cannabis in public, including on sidewalks. No other state allows it, said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the pro-legalization group NORML. Local governments may pass stricter rules on marijuana use. They can ban retail dispensaries and impose small civil penalties. all so long as they do not “completely or substantially prohibit a person” from the legal use of marijuana.

Economic Factor

Marijuana Business Daily magazine estimates that New York could become the largest recreational marijuana market on the East Coast, generating potential annual revenue of $2.3 billion by its fourth year. Cuomo, a Democrat, has said annual tax revenue could eventually amount to $300 million, although Republicans are skeptical. California was forced to cut $223 million from state budget projections in 2019 due to slower-than-expected pot sales.

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