By: Matt Ferner
The state of New York could legalize marijuana for recreational use as early as 2015.
State Sen. Liz Krueger (D) will reintroduce the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act during the next legislative session, which begins in January, her office confirmed to The Huffington Post on Monday.
“We’re definitely introducing the bill next session,” Brad Usher, Krueger’s chief of staff, told HuffPost. “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.”
Krueger’s bill would permit the opening of retail marijuana dispensaries, which would be regulated by the State Liquor Authority. The bill would establish an excise tax on all marijuana sales, and adults would legally be able to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants at home for personal use. Krueger introduced a similar bill in 2013 that also aimed to legalize the possession, use and sale of limited amounts of recreational marijuana, but the bill never made it out of committee.
Usher said that many of the changes to the measure for reintroduction in 2015 relate to how the tax is structured, as well as clarifying who would be able to work in the state’s marijuana industry.
New York is not a referendum state, which means that if next year’s measure gets through the legislature and is signed into law, it will immediately go into effect and will not require a vote by New Yorkers. Colorado and Washington, both of which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, did so through voter-approved ballot measures.
“In some ways, not having a referendum makes it harder,” Usher said. “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.”
One such official might be Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who has not made it clear whether he would support a bill that legalizes marijuana for recreational use. In January, Cuomo said that Colorado-style legalization in New York is “a nonstarter for me.”
Earlier this summer, New York became the 23rd state in the country to legalize medical marijuana. Moreover, the state decriminalized the possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana more than 30 years ago. Even so, New York, and especially New York City, remain plagued by an inordinate number of low-level marijuana arrests.
That’s because the decriminalization law passed in 1977 has a loophole: Anyone arrested for “private” possession is issued a violation, while anyone arrested for “public” possession is charged with a criminal misdemeanor. So if — during one of the hundreds of thousands of stop-and-frisk searches the New York City police perform each year — an officer asks a person to empty their pockets, and marijuana comes out, the drug is suddenly considered to be “in public view.” The officer is then allowed to make an arrest.
Since 2010, New York City has averaged between 30,000 and 50,000 marijuana arrests each year. And during the period between 2002 and 2012, 87 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in the city were black or Latino, despite evidence suggesting that whites use marijuana at about the same rate as either group.
So inconsistent is the enforcement of New York’s current marijuana laws that a bill attempting to equalize the consequences for all residents of the state was introduced during the last legislative session.
“The real motivation [for Krueger’s upcoming bill] came from the disparate impacts of the drug war on different communities, how communities of color — especially in New York City — are facing large amounts of marijuana arrests based on these interpretations of existing law,” Usher told HuffPost.
“While Krueger doesn’t smoke pot and doesn’t think anyone else should, she doesn’t think the policy of prohibition has been successful in controlling marijuana use, and [thinks] that it should be treated more as a public health issue,” Usher went on. “She doesn’t think you should drink either, but making alcohol illegal didn’t really work, and we should have learned that about marijuana as well.”
To date, only Colorado and Washington have legalized cannabis for recreational use. In November, Oregon and Alaska voters will decide if they also want to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.