New York becomes 15th state to legalise recreational cannabis

Following debate in the state’s legislature, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed into law a measure to immediately legalise possession of small amounts of marijuana, while creating a pathway to begin repairing communities of colour disproportionately targeted in a long-running war on drugs.

Governor Cuomo signed the bill on Wednesday morning, marking the 15th state to legalise recreational use in the US.

New York’s Senate voted 40-23 and the state Assembly voted 100-49 to support its passage.

In a statement on Tuesday ahead of his signature, the governor said the legislation “provides justice for long-marginalised communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public.”

New Yorkers aged 21 and older will be allowed to possess up to three ounces of cannabis for recreational use, or 24 grams of concentrated forms. The state will implement a regulatory framework for future use in the coming months.

The measure also creates “automatic expungement” of previous marijuana convictions for possession that is no longer criminalised – a reversal that will impact thousands of New Yorkers.

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It also aims to help people with previous convictions as well as people involved with selling marijuana illegally to participate in the state’s burgeoning legal market.

Black and Latino New Yorkers made up 94 per cent of marijuana-related arrests in 2020, despite white New Yorkers making up a larger share of marijuana users, according to records from the New York Police Department.

A survey from New York City’s health department found that nearly a quarter of white respondents reported using marijuana, compared to 14 per cent of Black residents and 12 per cent of Latino residents.

State Senator Liz Krueger was among lawmakers who ushered the bill through the state’s legislature.

“New York’s program will not just talk the talk on racial justice, it will walk the walk,” she said in a statement.

The creation of a strictly regulated market for cannabis through a state Office of Cannabis Management could be a potential boon amid a lagging economy and the state’s looming fiscal crises in one of the largest state economies in the US, as the government works to create a system for home deliveries, dispensaries and other businesses involved with the still-illicit marijuana industry.

That market is expected to draw upwards of $350m a year in tax revenue, with billions of dollars in annual sales, and the creation of 60,000 new jobs, according to the governor’s office.

Forty per cent of that revenue will be diverted to some of the most hard-hit communities impacted by the war on drugs, while 40 per cent will benefit schools and 20 per cent will address drug treatment and education.

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