New York has become the fifteenth US state to legalise recreational cannabis use, yet the first to actively implement legislation to redress the social and racial disparities caused by prohibition. The new bill – which was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday (March 31) – has been specifically designed to ensure that half of the new business licenses and forty percent of tax revenues are allocated to individuals and communities that have been historically targeted by the War on Drugs. As such, the bill aims to prevent the legal New York cannabis market from becoming dominated by large companies at the expense of marginalised communities, as has occurred in other states.
Cannabis Finally Legalised In New York
The legalisation of Cannabis in New York is long overdue, having stalled due to disagreements between Cuomo and the state’s Democrat lawmakers. The latter had been pushing for a legalisation bill that favours social equity ever since the party regained control of the state legislature in 2018. However, after initially opposing legalising entirely, Cuomo later threw his weight behind a watered-down legalisation bill that would keep control of the industry in the hands of big businesses.
Yet after seeing his power base rocked by a series of accusation of sexual assault, Cuomo finally decided to play ball and support the bill proposed by his fellow Democrats, apparently in the hopes of regaining some popularity and deflecting attention away from the scandal in which he is currently embroiled.
The bill, which sailed through the state Assembly and Senate in spite of opposition from Republicans, allows all adults in New York to possess up to three ounces of cannabis flower, or 24 ounces of concentrates and extracts.
Aspects of the law concerning cultivation and sale of cannabis in New York are yet to be worked out, and it’s likely to be a year or so before these are finalised. However, residents of New York will eventually be allowed to grow up to six cannabis plants at home, while dispensaries and special “consumption sites” are also expected to become commonplace across the state.
The new law will also allow for increased access to medical cannabis, which has been legal in New York since 2014 but only for a limited range of conditions. Under the new legislation, doctors will be allowed to use their discretion to prescribe cannabis for any medical ailment, with patients permitted to use cannabis flower as opposed to a restricted number of approved cannabis-based medications.
Importantly, anyone who has been convicted of a cannabis-related offense that no longer warrants criminalisation will have their record automatically expunged.
Promoting Social Justice Within New York’s Legal Cannabis Market
In addition to expunging prior criminal convictions, the new law seeks to prioritise those who have been unfairly prosecuted when it comes to gaining a foothold within the new legal market. Fifty percent of new business licenses will therefore be allocated to “social equity applicants”, which includes those from minority communities that have high historical rates of cannabis convictions, as well as women and disabled war veterans. Anyone related to someone with a prior cannabis conviction will also qualify.
In addition, forty percent of tax revenues generated by legal cannabis sales in New York will be reinvested into communities that have been heavily targeted by the War on Drugs, with a further forty percent being used for public education initiatives and the final twenty percent being spent on drug treatment programmes.
The industry will also be structured in a way that prevents the established big players from accumulating all the wealth and outcompeting smaller businesses. For instance, most companies will not be allowed to hold multiple licenses – such as those for cultivation, distribution and sale – at the same time, which means it will not be possible for any one organisation to dominate the supply chain.
Eager to align himself with this highly popular piece of legislation, Cuomo expressed his support for the new bill by stating: “this is a historic day in New York, one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritises marginalised communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits.”