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Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs bill to legalize recreational marijuana in New York

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Key Points
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday morning signed a bill passed by the legislature the night before to legalize recreational marijuana in New York state.
  • That makes New York the 15th state, along with the District of Columbia, to have legalized the drug for recreational use.
  • Legalization of the plant is effective immediately but legal recreational sales are not expected to begin for one or two years.
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday morning signed legislation passed by state lawmakers the night before to legalize recreational marijuana in New York state.

The state Senate voted Tuesday evening 40-23 to pass the legislation. Later that night, the state Assembly voted 100-49 in favor of the bill.

That makes the Empire State the 15th state, along with the District of Columbia, to have legalized cannabis for recreational use.

"This is a historic day. I thank the Leader and Speaker and the tireless advocacy of so many," Cuomo wrote on Twitter after signing the legislation.

He elaborated in a statement Tuesday night after passage of the bill. "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 City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he supports the legislation on the basis of racial equity. "I think this bill goes a long way. I think there's more to do after, but it goes a long way," de Blasio said, according to WDTV ABC 11.

Black and Latino New Yorkers combined made up 94% of marijuana-related arrests by the New York Police Department in 2020, even though the city's statistics show that the proportion of white New Yorkers using marijuana is considerably higher than that of either Latino or Black residents. According to a New York City health department survey, 24% of white residents reported using marijuana, compared with 14% of Black residents and 12% of Latino residents, over the two-year period of 2015-2016, the most recent available data.

The decision to legalize weed comes after neighboring state New Jersey recently legalized the plant. Lawmakers' goal was to pass the bill as part of the state budget before the April 1 deadline.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. Senators debated for three hours, with Republicans alleging that the bill is dangerous and does not represent the wishes of all New Yorkers.

"We took endless meetings with anyone who asked us," Krueger said in response during the proceedings. "In truthfulness I'm not sure I have ever met with as diverse a group of people as I did over the seven years that my chief of staff and I were working on this bill."

Legalization is expected to eventually rake in billions of dollars in revenue for the state and for New York City in particular, with a hefty 13% tax, which includes a 9% state tax and a 4% local tax. The measure also includes a potency tax of as much as 3 cents per milligram of THC, the natural psychoactive component of cannabis that delivers the plant's high.

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An estimate from Cuomo's office predicts annual tax revenues from legal weed sales could bring in $350 million a year and 60,000 jobs to the state when the industry is fully established.

The measure allows for possession of up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate and allows for the growth of up to six plants at home.

The legislation also creates equity programs to provide loans and grants to people including small farmers who have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

"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," Krueger said in a press release.

"I saw such injustice going on, and for young people whose lives were being destroyed for doing something I did when I was a kid," Krueger said, while recording her vote in favor of the measure. "Nobody put a gun to my head and nobody tried to put me in jail, because I was this nice white girl."

Some officials are even calling for the bill to fund universal basic income and homeownership programs for communities most heavily affected by the drug war.

"With the legalization of marijuana on the horizon, we have the ability to enact legislation locally to make the concept of reparations through a UBI and home ownership a reality for Rochester and its families," said Rochester, New York, Mayor Lovely Warren, according to Rochesterfirst.com.

The bill will expunge the criminal records of tens of thousands of people, has a goal of 40% revenue reinvestment into communities of color, and will grant 50% of adult-use licenses to social equity applicants and small businesses.

The bill will also establish "a well-regulated industry to ensure consumers know exactly what they are getting when they purchase cannabis."

The measure will create an Office of Cannabis Management, which will be an independent agency operating with the New York State Liquor Authority. The agency will be in charge of regulating the recreational cannabis market and the existing medical cannabis programs. The agency will also be overseen by a Cannabis Control Board composed of five members — three appointed by the governor and one each appointed by the state Senate and state Assembly.

Police groups and the New York Parent-Teacher Association have openly expressed concern around the bill.

"Absolute travesty. All research submitted shows it will be harmful to children, makes the roads less safe," New York State PTA Executive Director Kyle Belokopitsky said, ABC 7 New York reported. "And I have absolutely no idea what the legislature is thinking in thinking they want to advance this right now."

New York officials are launching an education and prevention campaign to reduce the risk of cannabis use among school-age children, and schools will be eligible for drug prevention and awareness programs. The state will also launch a study that examines cannabis's effect on driving.

The bill will allow for localities to pass laws banning cannabis dispensaries and consumption licenses, with a deadline of nine months after legalization.

Legalization of the plant is effective immediately but legal recreational sales are not expected to begin for one or two years.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the measure allows for possession of up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate.

— CNBC's Lynne Pate contributed to this report.