Will New York Go Legal in 2015?

Last week, Senator Liz Krueger announced her plans to reintroduce legislation in January 2015 for the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (also known as the MRTA). Under this bill adults 18 years and older would be able to possess up to two ounces of cannabis flower, 16 ounces of any cannabis in a solid form, 72 ounces of cannabis in liquid form, one quarter ounce of concentrated cannabis and would also be able to grow up to six plants at home.

Cannabis products sold at wholesale from producers to processors or dispensaries would carry a $50 tax rate for each ounce of flower or quarter ounce of concentrate. This tax revenue would be used to establish a fund by the comptroller known as the “Marihuana Revenue Fund” of which 15 percent of the of proceeds would be split evenly between re-entry programs for drug offenders released from prison, substance abuse programs for drug prevention and treatment initiatives, and job training programs targeted toward low income and high unemployment communities. Localities would also be able to impose a five percent retail sales tax on cannabis products. The program would be run by the state liquor authority similar to Washington State, which has had an interesting time reconciling their legacy medical program with their current adult use initiatives.

The MRTA is quite comprehensive in comparison to New York’s current medical legislation and noticeably includes specific language for concentrated cannabis and infused products in addition to cannabis flower. This is a welcome addition, unlike the current New York medical legislation (which does not yet specify the type of cannabis that will be allowed under the program, but does specify it to be a non-smoking initiative).

In the current version of the bill, Krueger has taken lessons from Colorado and Washington states by making amendments that have to do with better labeling, dosing requirements and other factors that have been identified by the start of recreational sales earlier this year, in those markets.

Unlike the current story in New York, this bill’s motivation is not due to medical advancements in cannabis or saving the lives of children, but is a continuation of the race fueled drug war plaguing our state and the countless minority arrests that are still occurring on record levels for small time cannabis charges.

Senator Krueger is not alone in taking a stance on this issue. Last July Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson went on record saying that he would not prosecute low-level cannabis offenses within his district, and just yesterday New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to reroute thousands of low level cannabis offenders away from jail and into treatment and counseling centers called Public Health Diversion Centers, modeled after similar programs underway in Seattle.

While this approach makes sense for some, it’s a stark contrast to what has been considered acceptable by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has recently shown support for cannabis used in a medical setting, but has not shown any sign of support toward cannabis in an adult use setting. If Cuomo is reelected in November, it will be unlikely that he would support the MRTA considering his current stance toward cannabis and his position with the health commissioner on New York being a non-smoking state.

New York’s path will have significant impact toward the national movement for cannabis reform. Even if Krueger’s bill has little chance of passing a Cuomo run government in 2015, it’s important to continue the dialogue in New York and to recognize the role it will play on the federal governments stance on the issue. Regardless of the outcome of the MRTA next year, it’s still important to have continued dialogue and proposed legislation to push the envelope leading up to a rational nationwide policy.

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