The Empire State is on the verge of legalizing recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older, with top lawmakers agreeing to the wording of a final bill expected to pass the legislature any day now (and may already have been passed at the time you read this.)
The bill legalizes possession of up to 3 ounces of cannabis, and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate. It also establishes an “Office of Cannabis Management” to oversee the production and sales in the state. This office would handle quality control and oversee the awarding of licenses, making certain that half are granted to minority- and women-owned businesses, disabled veterans, and/or people who have relatives with a prior cannabis conviction.
Embattled governor Mario Cuomo initially sought to have direct oversight of the new agency. Given his tenuous current political situation, Cuomo compromised to allow oversight by an appointed board of directors, which was the final hurdle to passage.
Households will also be allowed to grow their own cannabis, defined as six “mature” plants and six “immature” plants. Retail sales could begin one year after the bill is signed into law. The state will also expand the list of conditions that allow patient eligibility for medical cannabis.
It is not surprising why New York State — with its massive multi-million dollar budget deficit — is eager for passage from a financial standpoint. Officials have estimated the program could bring in about $350 million a year in new revenue, and create as many as 60,000 new jobs. The legislation provides for a 9% state sales tax, with counties allowed to add their own tax up to 4%.
Industry observers predict New York would become the largest cannabis market on the east coast, and the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association estimates the state cannabis industry could be worth $5.8 billion by 2027. Depending on how the rules and regulations shake out, New York State would be able to capture and tax $4.2 billion of that amount.
Other provisions of the New York State Cannabis bill include:
New York State’s ten current medical cannabis operators can each open three recreational dispensaries inside their current medical dispensaries. They can also double their number of dispensaries from four to eight, providing at least two are in underserved areas.
The medical cannabis program will now allow patients to smoke or vape flower.
A wholesale tax will also be imposed, based on product potency — up to 3 cents per mg of THC.
There will be automatic expungement of crimes now legal under the law.
Home delivery will be allowed, and lounges where cannabis (but not alcohol) can be publicly consumed will be permitted.
Of the tax revenues generated, 40% will be reinvested into communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, 40% will go toward public education, and 20% will go to drug treatment and prevention.
Equity programs will provide loans, grants and incubator programs for small farmers and people from disproportionately impacted communities.
So are New Yorkers themselves cheering this development? Absolutely; polls show 60 percent of total voters favoring legalization, and over 70 percent of Black voters.