What Will it Take for New York to Legalize Marijuana in 2015?

As unlikely as it might sound, lawmakers in New York are discussing strategies to legalize and regulate a recreational marijuana market as early as next year.

State Sen. Liz Kreuger (D) plans to reintroduce the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.

The plan was confirmed by Brad Usher, Krueger’s chief of staff, who reported:

“We’re definitely introducing the bill next session. We’ve received a variety of feedback since we first introduced it last December and we’re working on amending it, so we’re looking to see what we can learn from Colorado and Washington when we reintroduce it.”

The bill would introduce a system of retail marijuana dispensaries monitored by the State Liquor Authority, and would instate an excise tax on all marijuana sales. Additionally, adults aged 21 and older would be allowed to legally possess up to two ounces of cannabis and grow up to six plants in their own home.

The bill is very similar to the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act introduced in 2013, which also aimed to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, but that bill died in committee. The reintroduction for 2015 includes adjustments to how the excise tax would be structured and more clearly defines who would be allowed to work in the state’s marijuana industry.

Unlike Colorado and Washington, however, New York is not a referendum state and therefore requires strictly legislative action to make changes to the law. “In some ways, not having a referendum makes it harder,” Usher explained. “With referendum, you only need 50.1 percent support to win, but getting a bill through to law will probably require broader support to address the risk-averse character of some elected officials.”

A simple majority vote among legislators would be enough to legalize marijuana in New York. Therefore, in order to realize legalized pot in New York anytime soon, the state’s lawmakers are going to have to bear witness to the political and economic success of recreational markets in Colorado and Washington. Additionally, if the legalization initiatives in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. pass this November, more hesitant lawmakers may be inspired to further explore the possibilities of retail cannabis.

As things currently stand, however, New York City has averaged between 30,000 and 50,000 marijuana arrests per year since 2010, while 87% of individuals arrested for marijuana between 2002 and 2012 were black or Latino. Earlier this year, New York passed a restrictive medical marijuana bill to become the 23rd state to allow cannabis for medical purposes, but it is still strictly illegal to smoke the drug.



Photo Credit: Rishad Daroowala

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