New York Marijuana Legalization Is Likely. Here’s What to Know.

The bill, which is awaiting the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature, would allow New Yorkers to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis for recreational use. People with marijuana-related convictions would have their records expunged immediately.,


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New York is on the brink of legalizing recreational marijuana, after years of failed attempts and stalled efforts.

State lawmakers approved a bill on Tuesday that would legalize the drug for adults 21 and older and move toward the creation of a potential $4.2 billion industry that could become one of the nation’s largest markets. The bill has been sent to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is expected to sign it.

If the measure is successful, New York would become the 15th state to permit the drug for recreational use.

Not yet.

The Democratic-controlled State Legislature voted on Tuesday to pass the bill they negotiated with Mr. Cuomo. The governor has 10 days to sign or veto it, but Mr. Cuomo has said he will sign the bill into law.

New Yorkers would be allowed to possess up to three ounces of cannabis for recreational use or 24 grams of concentrated cannabis, such as oils derived from a cannabis plant.

At home, people would be permitted to store up to five pounds of cannabis, but they must take “reasonable steps” to make sure it is stored in a secured place, according to the bill.

People who are 21 and older would be allowed to use, smoke, ingest or consume cannabis products; they would also be able to give them to others who meet the same age requirement.

There would be penalties, ranging from a simple violation to a felony, for possessing more than the permitted amount of cannabis and for selling the drug without a license.

Liz Krueger, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, said people would be legally allowed to smoke in public wherever smoking tobacco is legal. “As far as right now, the law passing today, if you can smoke tobacco there, you could smoke marijuana there,” she said on Tuesday.

Smoking cannabis would not be permitted in schools, workplaces or inside a car.

Ms. Krueger said localities, as well as a new state cannabis agency, could create rules to more strictly regulate smoking cannabis in public. Smoking publicly where it’s not permitted could subject people to a civil penalty of $25 or up to 20 hours of community service.

An officer, however, would not be allowed to use the smell of cannabis as a justification to stop and search a pedestrian.

People would be legally allowed to smoke cannabis in private residences, as long as the landlord doesn’t prohibit you from doing so, as well as in hotels and motels that permit it.

Club-like lounges or “consumption sites” where cannabis — but not alcohol — could be consumed would also be permitted. Municipalities could opt out of allowing these sites.

The bill would create retail licenses, paving the way for brick-and-mortar dispensaries where people can purchase cannabis products. Localities could opt out of allowing dispensaries and would have until the end of the year to do so.

Consumption would not be allowed at dispensaries unless the business has a license that allows on-site consumption.

The state would also issue licenses for the creation of cannabis delivery businesses, which means people would be able to get the drug delivered to their homes, something localities would not be able to block.

It would remain illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, just as it’s illegal to drive while intoxicated by alcohol, and the police would still be able to pull people over who they believed were impaired.

An officer could use the smell of burned cannabis as a reason to suspect that a driver is under the influence, but he or she would only be allowed to search parts of the car that are readily accessible to the driver, so not the trunk, for example.

Unlike with alcohol, there is currently no easy way to quickly and reliably measure whether a person is under the influence of cannabis, especially since traces of the drug can stay in someone’s system after the high has worn off.

So under the legislation, the Health Department would be required to look at emerging devices that could potentially allow officers to use a saliva test to detect whether a driver is high.

The state’s existing medical marijuana program, first legalized in 2014, would undergo several changes aimed at making it less restrictive.

The list of medical conditions covered would be significantly widened and would include Alzheimer’s disease and muscular dystrophy. Patients would no longer be restricted from smoking medical marijuana, and the current 30-day cap on supply for patients would also be doubled.

Medical marijuana companies would be allowed to enter the more lucrative recreational market under certain circumstances, a measure they aggressively lobbied for.

Yes. For recreational purposes, users would be allowed to cultivate up to six plants at home, indoors or outdoors, and a maximum of twelve plants total per household. They would not be allowed to do so, however, until 18 months after the first adult-use dispensary opens.

Medical marijuana patients, or their designated caregivers, could also grow the plants, starting six months after the bill became law.

The timeline for dispensaries to open and sales to kick off remains distant. The legislation doesn’t provide a specific timeline, but the first sales aren’t expected until at least 2022.

Officials must first determine how the industry will operate, from the regulation and taxation of sales to the allocation of licenses for cultivators, processors, wholesalers, retailers and delivery services.

A new state Office of Cannabis Management and Cannabis Control Board would craft and oversee the new regulations.

One 2018 analysis by The New York Times found that Hispanic people across New York City had been arrested on low-level marijuana charges at five times the rates of white people in recent years.

The imbalance was even starker for Black people, who in Manhattan were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people.

But surveys have shown that Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates. And in neighborhoods where people called to make complaints about marijuana at similar rates, arrests were almost always made at a higher rate in the area with more Black residents.

Officials hope the deal will help put an end to those disparities.

Millions of dollars in tax revenue from sales would be reinvested each year in communities affected by racially disproportionate policing on drugs. A significant amount would also be steered to fund public education and drug prevention treatment.

A sizable portion of business licenses would be reserved for minority business owners, disabled veterans and distressed farmers, among others.

People with marijuana-related convictions for activity that is no longer criminalized would have their records automatically expunged.

There is some precedent for such a move: In 2019, more than 150,000 people with some low-level marijuana convictions in New York had them cleared from their records.

Mr. Cuomo and Democrats in the State Legislature tried several times to legalize marijuana in recent years. But each time, efforts unraveled.

In 2019, for example, the plan for legalization collapsed as disagreements over how to regulate the industry and how revenue dollars should be controlled, along with hesitation from moderate lawmakers, could not be overcome.

Mr. Cuomo vowed last January — and again this year — to finally push the bill over the line.

The efforts recently gained momentum, however, when they received a boost amid Mr. Cuomo’s recent scandals. Striking a deal for legalization became a higher priority for the governor, several lawmakers and lobbyists believe, as he sought to shift attention away from his compounding crises.

The new dynamic prompted Mr. Cuomo’s team to concede on many issues they had previously held the line on, such as how the tax revenue would be distributed, leading to a deal that more closely reflected Democratic lawmakers’ wishes.

More than a dozen other states and Washington, D.C., have taken similar steps.

In New Jersey, Gov. Philip D. Murphy signed into law three bills last month that permit and regulate the use of recreational marijuana. It became the most populous state in the Northeast to opt for legalization.

Penalties for underage possession were also eased, with written warnings and referrals to community services instead of harsh fines or criminal punishments.

Legal sales in New Jersey, however, remain at least several months away.

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