March 31, 2021

New York State Just Legalized Weed, and they Legalized it RIGHT

March 31, 2021
New York Cannabis Legalization

After years of advocacy on many levels, New York State has FINALLY legalized the use of adult-use (recreational) marijuana.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the historic cannabis legislation earlier today, making New York the 15th state to legalize adult-use cannabis.  The state is now positioned to become one of the largest markets for legal cannabis in the U.S. 

Additionally, New York is now one of the few states where legalization is directly tied to economic and racial equity. The new law will enact a program that will reinvest millions of dollars of tax revenues from cannabis in minority communities that have suffered for decades because of the racial criminalization of cannabis and the war on drugs.

New York Cannabis Legalization

While this was definitely a combined effort of many activists, businesses, coalitions, and organizations, the legislation was ultimately championed by Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the Majority Leader of the New York State Assembly who sponsored the bill.  She credited her co-sponsor, Senator Liz Krueger, Drug Policy Alliance and their campaign Start Smart NY, amongst others, for this victory.

Even drug law reform and social justice thought leaders like Dasheeda Dawson approve of this groundbreaking legislation.  Dasheeda Dawson is a long time cannabis industry advocate, and currently the City of Portland (Oregon) Cannabis Program Supervisor, and Founding Chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color.

“On Tuesday, New York legislators took the courageous step to pass the country’s most equity-centered marijuana legalization bill. Led by Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Liz Krueger, the MRTA will finally begin to address the harm suffered by communities of color due to decades of racially-biased cannabis prohibition.  A marijuana industry rooted in racial and economic equity is imminent and this bill will provide education, access, and financial support for individuals and communities disproportionately impacted by the failed war on drugs. As a longtime advocate, regulator, and native New Yorker, I recognize the tremendous efforts taken to achieve this historic vote. I look forward to an inclusive and equitable New York cannabis industry that provides access to the health and economic benefits for all, and a legal framework that serves as a model for other states and eventually the federal government.”

– Dasheeda Dawson

Another point to consider is that this legislation uses correct language in how the cannabis regulation is termed. It’s time to get rid of the term “recreational” and call it what is really is, “adult-use”.

Cannabis Legalization and Social Equity

The Start SMART NY Coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) applauded the vote in both houses of the Legislature approving marijuana legalization in New York through the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). Aside from legalizing adult-use cannabis, the MRTA will comprehensively address the harms of overcriminalization, and establish one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization programs in the nation.

For years, Start SMART NY coalition members have organized for marijuana justice, emphasizing that for New York’s legalization effort to be responsive to the devastation of the marijuana arrest crusade in New York it must center social equity and direct tax revenue from sales toward the communities that are still reeling from decades of biased enforcement. Advocates have also demanded that legislation include specific language to resolve the devastating collateral consequences of marijuana criminalization in the fields of housing, employment, child welfare, and immigration — which is included in the final Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).

MRTA was first introduced in the New York State Legislature in 2013, and the Drug Policy Alliance has been supporting the call for adult-use legalization and regulation since the initial conversations with the bill sponsors, Senator Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes, more than 8 years ago.

Melissa Moore is the New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  

“A new era for marijuana justice is here. After years of hard work against long odds, New York has enacted one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization programs in the country. Let’s be clear — the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act is an outright victory for the communities hit hardest by the failed war on drugs. By placing community reinvestment, social equity, and justice front and center, this law is the new gold standard for reform efforts nationwide. Today we celebrate, tomorrow we work hard to make sure this law is implemented fairly and justly for all New Yorkers,” Moore said in response to the new legislation. 

Cannabis Education Advocacy Symposium and Expo (CEASE) Executive Director, Imani Dawson.

“After decades of devastation to Black and Brown communities from racialized unequal enforcement of draconian drug laws, equity-centered marijuana legalization is finally within reach in New York. Thanks to the efforts of advocates who fought to end prohibition and the vision and courage of legislators Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Liz Krueger who held the line for marijuana justice, our state is poised to create an inclusive and equitable industry and set a new standard for US legalization. Legalization will end prohibition’s unjust criminalization of Black and Brown New Yorkers and offer restoration and reinvestment to impacted communities and individuals alike.”

In the 2019 legislative session, advocates were extremely close to passing marijuana legalization in the state budget, but when there was a lack of commitment to community reinvestment from the Governor, legislative champions Assembly Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes and Senator Krueger continued pushing for full marijuana justice or no deal. The 2019 legislative session ended without adult-use legalization, but a separate bill established expungement for the first time in New York State for low-level marijuana arrests because of relentless pressure from advocates.

But, thanks to a collaborative effort, the new law has been passed by the NY legislature and is now signed into law, potentially setting the new gold standard for other states wishing to do the same.  In thinking about social equity and cannabis law reform in the country overall, it’s also important to note the groundbreaking legislation that is in the Oregon State Legislature currently (House Bill 3112) that speaks to the same issues as MRTA does, but in an already legalized and mature market.  It’s my hope that legislation such as this will begin to become a more weighted part of the conversation in both individual states and at the federal level. 

So, what’s next?  Stay tuned for all the news on the implementation and roll out of this new law in New York. And, perhaps even more exciting, keep an eye on Chuck Schumer and make sure he sticks to his claims on the federal level! 

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