Will New York Legalize Marijuana in 2021 for Recreational Use?

Is New York going to Legalize Adult Recreational Marijuana in 2021

Will New York State legalize adult-use recreational marijuana in 2021? It’s looking more and more plausible. Time to discuss Governor Cuomo’s recent announcement, the likelihood that a marijuana legalization bill will pass in 2021, and the impact it could have on the state if it does.

For decades, there has been talk of legalizing marijuana in New York. And there have even been some hefty pushes from leading politicians in the state. But none have yet pushed the issue over the finish line. 

Now, after a few years of research and haggling, just days before his 2021 “State of the State” address, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo presented bullet points for a comprehensive plan to legalize marijuana. At his address, the Governor promised additional details on the plan would be forthcoming and would include actual legalese to be used in developing legislation.

What’s in the Governor’s recreational marijuana legalization proposal?

Under Cuomo’s proposal, lawmakers would create legislation needed to implement a system for the statewide production and sale of marijuana. An Office of Cannabis Management would be created to oversee the current New York medical marijuana program, and the NY hemp/CBD industry, as well as the proposed recreational market.

Here’s some of what the Governor had to say in his announcement:

“We will legalize adult-use recreational cannabis, joining 15 other states who’ve already done so. This will raise revenue and will end the over-criminalization of this product that has left so many communities of color over-policed and over-incarcerated… This program will generate much-needed revenue while allowing us to support those that have been most harmed by decades of failed cannabis prohibition,” 

To promote social justice, Cuomo proposes the state offer licensing opportunities and startup assistance to entrepreneurs in communities of color where residents have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. Furthermore, the state could conceivably generate over $300 million in marijuana sales tax revenue and also save millions in law enforcement costs which could be earmarked for social programs.

The backstory

Governor Cuomo has been championing the push to legalize marijuana in new york since he took office. And he has attempted to reform current policy through budget proposals twice without success. 

In 2018, under Governor Cuomo’s direction, the state conducted an extensive study to gather intelligence related to marijuana legalization. The Department of Health, along with other state agencies, concluded that the pros of legalizing marijuana far outweighed the negatives. Furthermore, the report pointed out that the War on Drugs has not only failed to keep marijuana off the streets, it has also led to innumerable arrests and convictions for the possession of marijuana. 

In 2019, in his first step toward full marijuana legalization, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to decriminalize the possession of marijuana and to expunge records for lesser marijuana convictions. Cuomo also spearheaded a multi-state meeting of the minds to discuss various proposals related to legalization. 

Cuomo’s claims his proposal is built upon the information gathered during these efforts. His priorities include promoting responsible use, keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, and establishing strict regulations for the packaging, labeling, marketing, and testing of marijuana products, as well as promoting social justice. 

Cuomo also hopes marijuana legalization will bring in badly needed revenue for the state. Once fully implemented, legalization is expected to generate more than $300 million in tax revenue. 

“Despite the many challenges New York has faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also created a number of opportunities to correct longstanding wrongs and build New York back better than ever before. Not only will legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provide the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also allows us to directly support the individuals and communities that have been most harmed by decades of cannabis prohibition.”

Will NY pass marijuana legalization legislation this year?

Both the state’s top Republican and the Democrat said last month that they expect the New York State Legislature to pass marijuana legislation this year. 

At the start of the year, New York Lawmakers refiled a bill to legalize cannabis that failed to pass last year. According to the cannabis industry journal Marijuana Moment, it’s not clear if Cuomo’s new plan will address outstanding policy concerns. 

Also, adding to the momentum, eight additional bills were recently pre-filed in New York, to implement reforms to the state’s medical-marijuana program. Issues addressed in those bills include tenants’ rights for medical marijuana patients and health insurance coverage for medical marijuana.

In a hope-filled press release from the Drug Policy Alliance, state director Melissa Moore stated:

“By including marijuana reform in today’s State of the State address, Gov. Cuomo has signaled that this is a top priority in this year’s legislative session. When it comes to responsibly regulating marijuana, it’s critical that we don’t just get this done, but we get it right. Equity must be the guiding force, and we will continue to work with the governor’s administration and legislative leaders to ensure any new law comprehensively addresses the harms to communities wrought by the war on drugs through dedicated community reinvestment.”

With Democrats having secured a veto-proof supermajority in the November election, it is highly likely that, in one form or another, marijuana legalization legislation will become law in New York in 2021. How long it will be before New York’s recreational marijuana dispensaries are open for business is anyone’s guess. 

Sources and additional reading

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