By Abigail Grigoryan
On March 31, 2021, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) into law, making New York the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Under the MRTA, adults who are at least 21 years old may possess up to three ounces of marijuana and up to 24 grams of concentrated marijuana, even though under federal law, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I controlled substance and therefore is not legal. Nonetheless, the new legislation affirms that law enforcement won’t be able to arrest or prosecute individuals for possession of marijuana up to 3 ounces.
Over the next few months, state officials will be examining regulations that will affect what kind of marijuana you can buy, where you can consume it, and who will be able to sell it to you. The office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that “the legislation could create up to 60,000 jobs and generate $350 million in annual tax revenue for the state. A total sales tax rate of 14% includes 9% allocated for the state, 3% for the municipality where the sale is made, and 1% for the county. From that 9%, 40% has been earmarked for communities disproportionately affected by prior drug laws, 40% for schools and 20% for drug treatment and education”. The legislation was created by the Office of Cannabis Management which will regulate the sale and distribution of both recreational and medical marijuana. The board will consist of five members, with three members appointed by the governor and one appointed by each house of the legislature
This legislation has reopened the issue of those imprisoned for possession, and the courts have already decided that anyone that has previously been convicted of possessing an amount of marijuana now under the legal limit automatically will be subject to expungement and re-sentencing. During the announcement, Governor Cuomo stated that the legislation “embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits.” The new legislation would create licenses for growers, sellers, producers, and businesses regarding where users could smoke. The new legislation intends to address some of the economic inequalities and harms generated by marijuana enforcement. 40 percent of the proceeds would go to a new social justice fund for programs that help those harmed by marijuana arrests. Nonprofits and local governments will also be able to appeal for funding for plans like job employment and housing.