N.Y. Senate approves legal marijuana, first step to full decriminalization

(NY DAILY NEWS)  — New York state lawmakers began the process of legalizing adult-use marijuana Tuesday, with the Senate passing the legislation by a 40-23 vote after debating in blunt terms the benefits and pitfalls of pot.

The bill, which was expected to be approved by the Assembly in a late vote, removes cannabis from the list of controlled substances and will eventually legalize, tax and regulate recreational pot for adults over 21.

It also expunges past pot convictions and a large percentage of tax revenue will be set aside for community reinvestment grants and social equity for minorities who have faced harsh penalties for marijuana possession.

“My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities,” said sponsor Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan).

Many Republicans in both chambers expressed reservations about the bill, warning that legalization sends the wrong message to children and expressing fears that cops may have a hard time determining if a driver is high.

“I truly believe that as a result of this law the health, safety and well-being of our children is going to be severely affected” Sen. Andrew Lanza (D-Staten Island) said during the lengthy floor debate.

Despite the last-minute opposition, New York is poised to become the 16th state in the U.S. to allow regulated marijuana sales following a three-way deal between legislative leaders and the Cuomo administration after years of stalled efforts.

State officials estimate the program, which will take about two years to fully implement, can raise $350 million in annual tax revenues. Legal marijuana could eventually become a $4 billion industry in the Empire State.

Under the bill, New York would set a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and local government. Local governments can opt out of having dispensaries or “consumption sites.”

It also establishes an “Office of Cannabis Management” to oversee production and sales of pot. The office will be charged with ensuring half of pot-selling, growing and delivery licenses to minority- and women-owned businesses.

Five board members, appointed by both the state legislature and the governor, will oversee the new office.

The measure also expands the state’s existing medical marijuana program and allows New Yorkers to grow their own pot plants at home.

For Democratic backers, the bill is all about equity.

“We are providing marijuana justice by ensuring investment into the lives and communities of those who suffered for generations as a result of mass incarceration,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo). “The results will be transformative for people across New York State — it will create economic and research opportunities, jobs across a wide variety of sectors, and a safe and reliable product.”

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