(The Center Square) – Late Saturday night, just minutes before midnight, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders announced they had reached an agreement to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults.
The deal comes as lawmakers and the Cuomo Administration work to finalize the budget, which is due by April 1. Last week, the governor told reporters that both sides were looking for billions in revenue to finalize their plans.
State leaders said they expect marijuana legalization to provide $350 million in tax revenue to the state annually and create upward of 60,000 jobs.
Cuomo has said decriminalization was long overdue in the state.
"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. … 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,” the governor said in a statement.
Dubbed the New York State Cannabis/Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, Senate Bill 854 and Assembly Bill 1248 creates an Office of Cannabis Management that would create regulations for both medicinal and recreational marijuana. The office would be an independent office in the state Liquor Authority.
The plan a “social and economic equity program” that has a goal of awarding half of the licenses to women or minority-owned businesses, distressed farmers or service-disabled veterans.
"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," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said.
Retail dispensaries would sell marijuana with a 9 percent state tax and a 4 percent local tax. Local taxes would be divided between the municipality and the county, with the municipality receiving 75 percent.
The state tax would fund education, community reinvestment grants and drug treatment and education funds.
Municipalities would have the option of not allowing retail shops or on-site consumption if they pass a law within nine months of the effective date of the legislation. Opt-out power, though, will not extend to personal use.
Individuals would also have the right to grow their own supply. However, whether individuals grow it or buy it, they face limits on how much they can have on them both in and out of their home.
Driving while using marijuana or under its influence remains illegal.
The bill also establishes an automatic expungement for anyone convicted of a marijuana crime that’s would now be legal under the bill.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said in a statement she posted on Twitter that she made it a priority to ensure legalized marijuana would serve as an “investment into communities, economic opportunities for historically disenfranchised people, research, education and public safety.”