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New York’s Two Marijuana Legalization Paths: Will Lawmakers Get It Right?

After two years of false starts, could 2021 be the year that New York finally legalizes marijuana? All the stars seem to be aligned: Governor Cuomo and leaders in the legislature have endorsed legalization, voters elected a historically progressive state legislature, and neighboring New Jersey voted for legalization last November.

The question for New York, then, is no longer whether legalization should occur, but how it should occur.

One critical aspect of that question is what should be done with the revenues generated by the new industry. State legislative leaders and drug policy advocacy groups argue that any legalization bill must reinvest tax revenues from legal marijuana in communities that have borne the brunt of the drug war. The governor’s office is instead proposing a version of legalization that would give the executive wide-ranging discretion over the new revenues.

The “gold standard” for legalization, according to Melissa Moore, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance*, is the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), a bill that has been pending in the legislature since 2013.

The MRTA, sponsored by state Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) would specifically earmark half of marijuana tax revenues for reinvestment in communities harmed by the criminalization of marijuana; a quarter for new spending on public education; and a quarter for treatment and harm reduction services, which have been facing steep cuts during the pandemic. [Read more at Filter Magazine]

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