ALBANY – Recreational marijuana use by adults 21 and older in New York State is now legal.
The New York State Senate and Assembly Tuesday night gave their endorsements to a bill to legalize marijuana. On Wednesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill, at which point possession of marijuana under three ounces immediately became fully legalized.
According to the Albany Times-Union, Retail sales should start in about 18 months after the government system is set up to oversee the budding industry.
The bill’s passage follows years of effort from activists and some lawmakers to rally support and forge a deal with enough votes to pass both chambers. But it was only after the Democrats gained control of both chambers in 2019 that legalization gained serious momentum.
During Tuesday’s debate on legalization, Republicans raised several concerns, including provisions for people convicted of crimes could get licenses to sell marijuana it the future, about liability for serving marijuana to people below 21, about police enforcement of impaired driving laws and other topics.
The sponsors countered that they were not encouraging anyone to go out and smoke marijuana, but also said that legalization was long overdue because of the countless lives ruined due to the decriminalization of it.
In the end, the vote was nearly down party lines, with all Republicans in both chambers voting against, along with handful of Democrats joining opposition to legalization. Among those voting against legalization were Chautauqua County representatives George Borrello (R -Irving) and Andy Goodell (Republican – Ellicott). Borrello’s full statement on the matter is provided at the end of this story.
For those who apply for licenses, priority will be given to women and people of color. Records will be expunged for marijuana-related offences, and money will be reinvested in communities that have been most harmed by the decades-long war on drugs.
Additionally, counties will not be allowed to opt out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses. However, Cities, towns, and villages will be allowed to do so, leaving the final decision up to each municipality, rather than at the county level.
The opt-out will take effect if a local government passes a local law by December 31, or nine months after the effective date of the legislation.
The historic legislation is expected to raise $350 million annually in revenue. Additionally, there is the potential for this new industry to create 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs across the State.
STATEMENT FROM SEN. GEORGE BORRELLO
“In the last two years, New York State under one-party-rule has pursued a politically-driven approach to lawmaking that is more concerned with appeasing special interests and earning progressive credentials than creating responsible, effective policies for our state. Regrettably, we’ve gone down that road again with a poorly thought out measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use that was negotiated behind closed doors and without the input of key stakeholders. I believe we’ve made a profound mistake that will have serious economic and social costs for our state and residents.
“Right now, 14 other states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized adult-use marijuana. Several of those, such as Colorado and Washington, have laws that have been in place for nearly a decade. There is ample data and evidence from those states that raises numerous red flags. We know that following legalization, states have seen concerning spikes in a number of problems, including marijuana-involved car accidents, marijuana use among teens and rates of mental illness. Figures like these are among the reasons why I remain opposed to taking this step.
“However, while I am personally opposed to legalization, if New York is determined to head down this path, then I believe we have a responsibility to craft a law that mitigates the risks to New Yorkers to the greatest extent possible, with no loopholes or gray areas. Regrettably, this bill doesn’t meet that standard.
“While we have made great strides in reducing drunk driving through strict laws and strong enforcement, statistics from other states tell us that the presence of impaired drivers on our roadways will increase significantly with legalization. However, this legislation doesn’t contain stronger penalties or funding to address that reality. In fact, this measure will make it harder for police to enforce marijuana-related DWI’s with the new limits this bill places on law enforcement using the odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle to pursue a criminal charge.
“Also noticeably absent is a direct appropriation to begin increasing the number of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) among the ranks of our police officers as I have been advocating for several weeks. DREs are highly trained police officers who use a 12-step evaluation process to identify the type of drug impacting a driver and are currently our best resource when it comes to combatting marijuana-impaired driving. With only 343 DREs out of 55,000 police officers statewide, any commitment to truly protecting New Yorkers from this looming threat will require investing tens of millions of dollars towards DRE training.
“I am also concerned at the potential implications of awarding cannabis licenses to individuals with past felony convictions. New York State law bars individuals with felony convictions from receiving liquor licenses, which is a requirement that was implemented to protect both the state and the public. In failing to hold marijuana licensees to the same standard, we are raising the risk of potential problems and liability on the part of the state.
“While public polls may show support for legalizing recreational marijuana, it’s our job to ensure that it’s done responsibly – to tune out the noise and focus on good policy, while rejecting misguided ideas that only serve to placate special interests. The litmus test for any legislation should be whether it protects New Yorkers, first and foremost. This bill fails on that count. That is why I voted ‘no’.”