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New York Could Vote To Legalize Recreational Cannabis As Soon As Today

March 30, 2021

As we went to press this morning, New York State lawmakers were on the brink of legalizing recreational cannabis, with a vote possible later today or tomorrow. In line with SNDC’s reporting from late last week, governor Andrew Cuomo’s office released a joint statement Sunday with senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, assembly majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and assembly speaker Carl Heastie announcing that they had reached an agreement on the specifics of legalization, setting the stage for an immediate vote.

“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,” Cuomo said. “I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”

The Cannabis/Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) is structured to establish an Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) that will administer the regulatory framework of licensing, testing, and selling cannabis in the Empire State; it will be an independent office within the New York State Liquor Authority. On the medical side, the law will expand the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana and permit home cultivation for medical use.

The provisions for recreational cannabis contain a number of big wins for advocates who pushed for a more progressive approach to legalization. The bill now includes the right to home-grow cannabis for recreational use, something the governor was originally strongly against. Adults will be able to cultivate up to six plants each—or 12 per household with more than one adult—although homegrowing will be subject to its own rules that the OCM will have 18 months to establish before the practice is actually legal. Consumers will be able to publicly possess up to three ounces without penalty and keep up to five pounds at home. Police will no longer be able to justify searches based just on detecting the odor of cannabis.

In a blow to major producers in both the U.S. and Canada that may have been eyeing the New York market, vertical integration will be prohibited, replicating something like beverage alcohol’s three-tier system, with separate licenses for cultivators, distributors, and retailers. Both delivery services and social consumption sites will be allowed. On the tax front, all cannabis products will be subject to a 9% state excise tax plus a 4% local tax. Cannabis distributors will follow a different tax structure determined by THC content and form factor.

With the legislature and the governor united on the issue, the bill sets the stage for a major step forward. Demand in New York is expected to be massive: a report by MPG Consulting prepared for the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association projects that the state’s regulated market could reach $1.2 billion as early as 2023 and reach $4.2 billion by 2027. The analysis expects the industry to employ approximately 21,000 people two years from now and more than 75,000 in six years. The total economic impact will reach nearly $3 billion in 2023 and grow to nearly $11 billion by 2027, generating an average of $573 million in tax revenue over the first five years.

Moreover, New York’s legalization—coupled with that of New Jersey—further heightens the cannabis movement’s momentum in the Northeast, where Massachusetts and Maine already have adult-use markets and Connecticut is moving toward legalization as well. Pennsylvania, another key target for cannabis advocates, already has a large medical market, and its governor, Tom Wolf, is in favor of adult-use, with a bipartisan bill currently moving through the legislature.—Danny Sullivan

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