New York state announces deal to legalise recreational marijuana

The draft law would allow adults 21 and over to purchase cannabis and grow plants for personal consumption at home. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York state lawmakers formally agreed in late-night talks on a deal to legalise recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over, the governor's office announced Sunday (March 28).

Once the underlying legislation passes - Cuomo's Democratic party holds strong majorities in both legislative chambers - New York will join 14 other states and the District of Columbia in permitting cannabis use.

A statement from Cuomo's office said the change could net an additional US$350 million (S$471.06 million) in annual tax revenues and create tens of thousands of jobs.

The draft law would allow adults 21 and over to purchase cannabis and grow plants for personal consumption at home, with a plan to divert some funds to drug treatment and education.

"Legalising 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-marginalised communities and ensuring those who've been unfairly penalised in the past will now get a chance to benefit," Cuomo said in the statement.

The law would take immediate effect once passed, but sales could take up to two years to start, as New York creates a proposed cannabis board and gets legal structures in place, a state lawmaker said Friday.

New York would automatically clear records of people with past convictions of marijuana-related offenses that would no longer be criminalised.

The law would also eliminate penalties for possession of up to three ounces of the drug (85 grams), the new personal possession limit. An existing medical-marijuana program would be expanded.

The state plans to tax marijuana sales at nine percent, with revenues from an additional four-percent tax divided between local and county government.

The bill would create loans, grants and programs to foster job creation and industry participation from small farmers, women and disabled veterans, as well as New Yorkers from minority communities.

The decision, reached late Saturday, comes after years of wrangling over legalising recreational pot use in New York.

The deal was reached as Governor Cuomo faces investigation from several angles, including for an alleged pattern of sexually harassing and intimidating women employees, as well as for accusations his administration orchestrated a cover-up of nursing home deaths related to Covid-19.

Proponents say the new marijuana legislation will be a step toward addressing decades of injustice affecting minority and impoverished communities, which were disproportionately targeted by decades of harsh drug criminalisation.

"This landmark legislation brings justice to New York State by ending prohibition, expunging conviction records that have curtailed the opportunities of countless predominately young Black and Latinx New Yorkers...", The Legal Aid Society, a social justice law firm, said in a Sunday statement.

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