By Michelle Fields
Unfortunately, the New York State Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA) was not placed on the budget or voted on here in New York in April; in large part, COVID-19 has been cited as justification to stall fully legalizing (i.e. decriminalizing) marijuana. According to these reports, not only has the pandemic left the state of New York in a billion-dollar budget crisis, but it has prevented legislators from operating as they normally would (i.e. debating over their differences in opinion on how, exactly, to legalize the substance). Governor Cuomo was insistent on avoiding the passage of a bare-bones budget that included any big-ticket items such as marijuana legalization, and in addition, legislators are still not in agreement as to what, exactly, should be done with the tax revenue generated from cannabis sales.
Group of New York Lawmakers Urge Speedy Legalization
Still, a number of New York senators think that the pandemic actually provides the perfect opportunity to mitigate both the virus’ and the marijuana prohibition’s disproportionate impact on communities of color by passing a number of legislative measures; one of them including the legalization of marijuana. They have indicated that the current version of the CRTA would direct revenue toward reinvesting in communities of color, who have suffered from the disparate, racist enforcement of prohibitions against marijuana. Specifically, by allowing for New Yorkers over the age of 21 to grow, use, and sell cannabis by participating in a state-run licensing system, legalization would generate revenue that would go back into low-income communities in the form of community investment grants, licensing, and start-up capital, as well as programs that raise revenue to address injustice issues.
Recap of Existing Decriminalization Measures
Although in August 2019, Cuomo signed into law certain decriminalization measures that:
- Reduce the penalty for possessing less than two ounces of marijuana (still considered a violation, and comes with a fine, but is not a crime that results in a criminal record or prison term);
- Automatically expunge past convictions for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana;
- Reduce the penalty for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana from $100 to $50; and
- Add marijuana to the definition of smoking in the Public Health Law, thus prohibiting smoking marijuana wherever smoking tobacco is prohibited.
However, these measures still fall short of addressing years of economic and racial injustice caused by the war on drugs, especially marijuana prohibition.
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As a practicing attorney in New York State with 17 years of litigation experience, and now a cannabis attorney in the area of regulatory compliance and business development, I am proudly committed to social justice reform and social equity. I am also proud to help those seeking to navigate the law and break into this new industry. Find out more about my work by reading my articles, and contact me at 718-400-6143.