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Governor Cuomo announces amendments for cannabis program in New York

Posted at 10:48 AM, Feb 16, 2021

ALBANY, N.Y. (WKBW) — Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced 30-day amendments to legislation that would establish an adult-use cannabis program in New York State. The state is anticipating that the legalization of marijuana will create more than 60,000 new jobs, and add $3.5 billion in economic activity while generating an estimated $350 million in tax revenue once fully implemented.

The amendment includes a $100 million Cannabis Social Equity Fund, enabling the use of delivery services, and refining criminal charges related to improper sales to reduce the impact on communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.

Cannabis Social Equity Fund
The proposal is to allocate a $100 million Cannabis Social Equity Fund that would help revitalize communities that have been harmed most by the war on drugs.

Community-based nonprofits would apply for funding to support efforts that would include: Job placement and skills services, Adult education, Mental health treatment, Substance use disorder treatment, and many more.

Grants would also support social and economic equity programs. Grants would be administered by Empire State Development Corporation, the Departments of Labor and Health, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal and the offices of Addiction Services and Supports and Children and Family Services.

Delivery Services
The amendment to the Governor's proposal will allow for delivery services on a permit bases. The state says this would "open up access to this new industry even further so more New Yorkers can participate as it grows."

The allowance of marijuana delivery services would be entirely up to local governments who could opt out of delivery within their jurisdiction. The Governor believes allowing for delivery would be another driver in helping the economy rebound following the pandemic.

Criminality of Improper Sales
Changes are proposed to the penalties associated with those illegally selling marijuana (those not selling through official sites). The following penalties are planned to be reduced:

  • Criminal sale in the third degree (sale to under 21 year old) will be made a class A misdemeanor
  • Criminal sale in the second degree (sale of over 16 ounces or 80 grams of concentrate) will be made a class E felony
  • Criminal sale in the first degree (sale of over 64 ounces or 320 grams of concentrate) will be made a class D felony

The Governor's proposal, which the state says "reflects national standards and best practices", will limit the sale of cannabis products to adults 21 and over, establish stringent quality and safety controls which will include packaging, labeling, advertising, and testing of all cannabis products.

Many believe that the Governor's amendments are still not enough to compete with the state legislature sponsored Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA).

"There's a lot more to flesh out because, under the Governor's program it just says, "here are the bones and we will add to it when you approve it," David Holland of Empire State NORML, said.

“I’m pleased to see the Governor's 30-day amendments moving in the right direction towards stronger community reinvestment, more sensible criminal penalties, and a cannabis delivery option. Its promising, but we still have a ways to go. My staff and I are in the process of reviewing the Governor’s amended language, as the true impact is always in the details. We have one opportunity to get this right and it’s vital that we do. I look forward to continuing to work with the Governor and the Senate to legalize cannabis with the most equitable and comprehensive bill possible for all New Yorkers,” commented Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (A.1248) bill sponsor and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Marvin Mayfield with the Center for Community Alternatives says there needs to be specific language related to how police can make arrests, and the elimination of a policy allowing the odor of marijuana to lead to an arrest.

"This has been going on in our communities for a long long time and it's time for it to stop," Mayfield said, "and it needs to be one of the things in the Governor's proposal."

Mayfield also says more would need to be done for those serving jail time now for marijuana-related crimes.

"I think it's only right that the people who have been prosecuted, arrested, harmed and jailed should see some type of benefit as well," Mayfield said.

The State budget is due April 1st.