New York adults over the age of 21 can now possess and use marijuana — even in public — under a legalization bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though legal sales of recreational-use cannabis won’t start for an estimated 18 months until regulations are set.
“By placing community reinvestment, social equity, and justice front and center, this law is the new gold standard for reform efforts nationwide,” said Melissa Moore, New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
The trade publication Marijuana Business Daily estimates New York could become the East Coast’s largest recreational marijuana market — generating a potential $2.3 billion in annual sales by its fourth year.
Cuomo, a Democrat, said annual tax revenues could eventually exceed $300 million, though Republicans are skeptical. California was forced to cut $223 million from state budget projections in 2019 due to slower-than-expected pot sales.
But one expert said he thinks Cuomo’s prediction might be an undersell — and revenues could be greater than projected.
After covering the state’s costs of regulation and enforcement, tax revenues would go to schools, drug treatment and prevention programs and a fund for investing in job skills, adult education, mental health and other services in communities that bore the brunt of the national and state drug war.
The taxes are considerable: a 9% statewide sales tax, an additional 4% county and local tax and another tax based on the level of THC, marijuana’s active ingredient.
Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat and the legislation’s senate sponsor, estimates the total tax rate will come out to about 20%.
The state will provide loans, grants and incubator programs to encourage cannabis entrepreneurs from minority communities, as well as small farmers, women and disabled veterans. Krueger said the state can’t mandate giving 50% of licenses to such applicants because it could be unconstitutional.
Instead, the law sets 50% as “a goal.”
“Fifty percent is a very high bar to try to reach, but if it happens, it would be amazing,” said Hillary Peckham, chief operator of Etain Health, a women-owned New York medical cannabis company that is considering applying for a recreational marijuana license.
“The next step is to see how the regulations and the program are stood up to actually provide those opportunities,” added Peckham, whose company has four dispensaries around the state.
Social equity emerged as a key theme in marijuana legalization in recent years, with newly legal states trying to build it in and others seeking to make up for a lack of diversity in the businesses they approved earlier. But plans haven’t always played out as intended.
Illinois, for instance, was touted for the equity provisions in its 2019 law. But that has drawn criticism and legal action from some Black-owned businesses that were passed over. Illinois has since revised its process to try to address those issues.