NEW YORK - After years of failed deals and other delays, lawmakers in New York are set to vote on legislation this week that would legalize adult-use marijuana. Sen. Liz Krueger said she started working on the bill seven years ago.
"I'm old now," she said. "I wasn't old when I started working on this bill."
After reaching a deal Saturday night, state lawmakers planned to vote on that bill Tuesday.
"The penalties for using marijuana were completely inappropriate," Krueger said, "accomplishing nothing and actually doing real harm to real people."
While those penalties have existed for many decades, Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said only recently have we as a society gained an awareness of the damage they inflict — especially on young people of color — and more seriously considered the kind of recreational legalization effort apparently on pace to pass this week.
"The law as has been enforced over the last 50 years in New York state has been predominantly targeted at people of color," NYC Cannabis Industry President David Holland said.
Holland applauded Krueger's bill for its emphasis on social equity.
"We are investing in the communities where the harm has been done," Krueger said.
The state would devote 40% of legalized marijuana revenues to helping the state's urban and rural poor start businesses in their communities, earmarking another 20% for drug treatment and education. The state would award half of its licenses to grow, produce, and sell cannabis to people of color, women, and disabled veterans.
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Loose marijuana. (DEA file photo)
"People who have most often been locked out of the economic cycles," Krueger said.
The bill proposes to expunge the criminal records of tens of thousands of New Yorkers found guilty of possession.
"I think people are already looking at the bill and saying: That's what we should have done," Krueger said.
"We're really concerned about this legislation," Smart Approaches to Marijuana communications and outreach associate Will Jones said.
Jones said he worries about big alcohol and tobacco companies entering this fledgling marketplace and targeting disadvantaged communities. He pointed to other states that promised and have struggled to make social equity a priority in their legalization processes.
"We do not see why it'll be any different in New York," he said.
Krueger said she expects the first dispensaries to open in New York in about 18 months and the marketplace to fully develop in another five years, creating an estimated $350 million in annual tax revenue.
"$350 million in a state the size of New York is not a pot of gold," she said.
But in addition to that tax revenue, Krueger estimated 30,000 to 50,000 new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars saved in policing and adjudicating marijuana-related offenses.