New York May Consider Recreational Marijuana Legalization
February 20, 2018
New York is currently taking steps to investigate the possible legalization of recreational marijuana in New York.
In July 2017 we talked about the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (“MRTA”), S.3040B/A.3506B, in Medical Marijuana 101: The State of the Law in NY. At that time, the bill, which seeks to regulate the growth, taxation, and distribution of recreational marijuana in New York, was sitting idly in the Senate Finance Committee. On January 11, 2018, however, the New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Codes, Health, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse held a public hearing to discuss the MRTA. The hearing reviewed the potential for allowing the regulated sale and adult possession of marijuana in New York and how it would affect public health and the criminal justice systems. A transcript and video recording of the hearing can be found here.
The hearing was held just days before Governor Andrew Cuomo’ annual budget address on January 16, 2018. During his budget address Governor Cuomo stated that New York should undertake a study of the possible impacts of legalizing recreational marijuana. The study would be undertaken by the NYS Department of Health, with input from state police and other state agencies, to determine the health and economic impacts of legalizing the drug.
“New Jersey may legalize marijuana. Massachusetts already has. On the other hand, Attorney General Sessions says he’s going to end marijuana in every state. So you have the whole confluence of different information,” Cuomo said during his presentation to the Legislature. “I think we should fund [the Department of Health] to do a study. Let them work with state police and other agencies. Look at the health impact and economic impact,” he said during his address.
This is a change from Governor Cuomo’s position from last February in which he told reporters that he remained “unconvinced on recreational marijuana.”
This change of heart, however, shouldn’t come as a surprise to most New Yorkers. Momentum for marijuana reform has been building steadily in New York since the passage of the Medical Marijuana Act in 2014. A poll of New York voters released in late 2017 showed that over 62% of New Yorkers support making marijuana use legal in New York for adults over the age of 21. In addition, more than 60% of those polled stated that they prefer using revenue from a legal marijuana market to address New York’s budget deficit over other options such as increasing sales taxes, increasing highway and bridge tolls and cutting public service funds.
The recreational use of marijuana is already legal in a growing number of states, including Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
In New Jersey, newly elected Democratic governor Phil Murphy stated in his inauguration speech that his vision for a “stronger and fairer New Jersey … includes a process to legalize marijuana.” He aims to legalize marijuana within his first 100 days in office.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana on July 28, 2017. The law permits adults over the age of 21 and who are not participating in the state’s medical marijuana program to legally grow up to six plants and to possess personal use quantities of marijuana up to one ounce and/or up to 5 grams of concentrate. The regulations also allow for the licensing of commercial marijuana production and retail sales. Regulations with regard to the commercial marijuana market will go into effect on July 1, 2018.
In January 2018 Vermont became the first state in the country to legalize marijuana by legislation rather than through a citizen referendum. The new law, H. 511, takes effect on July 1, 2018. Similar to the regulations passed in Massachusetts, the Vermont law authorize adults over the age of 21 to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, and/or to privately cultivate up to six marijuana plants. The regulations also impose new civil penalties for consuming marijuana while driving, and imposes additional penalties for those who operate a motor vehicle impaired with a minor in the vehicle.
What happens in New York remains to be seen, but it is clear that the debate over whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana is just getting started.