Marijuana legalization in NY: Timeline, decriminalization, taxes and more to know

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ALBANY, N.Y. (PIX11/WSYR) — New York lawmakers appear poised to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana for most adults in the state. The Democrat-led Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo released details of the legislation Saturday night.

The measure still needs to be voted on by the state Senate and Assembly, then signed into law by Cuomo. Cuomo has already said he’s excited to sign the bill into law, and those already in the industry are hopeful this will help small businesses expand.

“We’re predicting about 50,000 jobs across the state with the adult-use cannabis program. In the bill, there’s also a labor peace agreement. Which means many of those jobs will be union jobs. They’ll have good pay, good benefits,” said Allan Gandelman, President of the NY Cannabis and Processors Association. “We’re really looking at this the same way New York has done the craft beer and the farm brewery thing. A lot of small businesses, direct to consumer, luckily this is in the legislation, like a micro-business license, so hopefully, those can be given out really really quickly.”

The vote is expected soon and the law would take effect immediately but it will likely take more than a year for the changes to be seen in the state. Below are the provisions included in the New York State Cannabis/Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act and how it could impact you.

Legal age to purchase marijuana set at 21

If passed, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) would allow recreational marijuana sales to adults over the age of 21.

State licenses for adult-use cannabis

Sellers will have to be licensed by the state. A licensing process will need to be established for the delivery of cannabis products to customers. The agreement would create a two-tier licensing structure that would allow for a large range of producers by separating those growers and processors from also owning retail stores. The legislation creates licenses for producers and distributors, among other entities, and the legislation will implement strict quality control, public health, and consumer protections.

When legal marijuana could be available for purchase

If passed, the legislation would take effect immediately, however, sales wouldn’t start immediately. The state will need time to establish rules and a proposed cannabis board. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes estimated it could take 18 months to two years for legal sales to begin.

Decriminalization of marijuana

The bill would eliminate penalties for possession and automatically expunge low-level marijuana convictions that would be considered legal under the bill. Those past offenses would be removed from criminal records. Individual New Yorkers would be allowed to grow plants for personal consumption in their own homes.

The following conditions apply to growing cannabis at home and personal possession of cannabis outside the home:

  • Personal possession outside of the home: up to three ounces cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate
  • Home possession: Amending limits of what is permitted in the home, which must be kept in a secure location away from children
  • Home grow: permitted under the bill subject to possession limits in 18 months for adult recreational use and subject to regulations of the Medical Program being promulgated no sooner than six months:
    • Three mature plants and three immature plants for adults over 21
    • Six mature plants and six immature plants maximum per household

The cannabis penalty framework would be restructured to avoid the criminalization seen in prohibition. Reduced penalties would be implemented for possession and sale.

  • Creates automatic expungement or resentencing for anyone with a previous marijuana conviction that would now be legal under the law and provides necessary funding
  • Adds cannabis to the clean indoor air act which establishes a baseline on where cannabis can be smoked or vaped
  • Contains various provisions to ensure that cannabis is treated as a lawful substance and to prevent discriminatory enforcement

Help for communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana laws

Under the legislation, New York would provide loans, grants, and incubator programs to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by people from minority communities, as well as small farmers, women, and disabled veterans. The social and economic equity program would facilitate individuals disproportionately impacted by cannabis enforcement, including creating a goal of 50% of licenses to go to a minority or woman-owned business enterprise, or distressed farmers or service-disabled veterans to encourage participation in the industry.

Taxes and revenue from legalization

The Bill proposes a new cannabis tax structure that would replace a weight-based tax with a tax per milligram of THC at the distributor level, with different rates depending on the final product type. The tax on the level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, ranges from 0.5 cents per milligram for flower, to 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

The wholesale excise tax would be moved to the retail level with a 9% state sales tax. The local excise tax rate—split between the county and local government—would be 4% of the retail price. Counties would receive 25% of the local retail tax revenue and 75% would go to the municipality.

The Cuomo administration estimated legalization could eventually generate about $350 million annually.

The bill also sets aside revenues to cover the costs of everything from regulating marijuana to substance abuse prevention. All cannabis taxes would be deposited in the New York state cannabis revenue fund. Revenue covers reasonable costs to administer the program and implement the law. The remaining funding would be split three ways:

  • 40% to education
  • 40% to community grants reinvestment fund
  • 20% to drug treatment and public education fund

The Office of Cannabis Management

The Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) would be charged with enforcing a comprehensive regulatory framework governing medical, adult-use cannabinoid hemp. It would be governed by a five-member board, with three members appointed by the governor and one appointed by each house. OCM would be an independent office operating as part of the New York State Liquor Authority.

Medical cannabis

The agreement would allow people with a larger list of medical conditions to access medical marijuana, increase the number of caregivers allowed per patient, and permit home cultivation of medical cannabis for patients.

Cannabinoid hemp

The agreement would permit the sale of hemp flower in the cannabinoid hemp program and allow for smokeable forms only when adult-use retail stores are operational.

Municipal opt-out

Local governments could opt-out of retail sales under the proposed legislation. Cities, towns, and villages may opt-out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by December 31, 2021, or nine months after the effective date of the legislation. They cannot opt-out of adult-use legalization. Municipalities and local governments are permitted to make laws that are more restrictive than the CIAA.

Traffic Safety

The New York State Department of Health will work with institutions of higher education to conduct a controlled research study designed to evaluate methodologies and technologies for the detection of cannabis-impaired driving. After completion of the research study, DOH may create and implement rules and regulations to approve and certify a test for the presence of cannabis in drivers.

The legislation includes additional funding for drug recognition experts and law enforcement to ensure safe roadways.

The use of cannabis by drivers will remain prohibited.

Protections for the use of cannabis and workplace safety

Unlawful discrimination would be prohibited and workplace safety protections would be implemented.

Public health and education campaign

OCM will establish a robust public health and education campaign and work with neighboring states and associations to coordinate actions and policies to protect regional health and safety.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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