US state government estimates that the change could net an additional $350 million in annual tax revenues and create tens of thousands of jobs.
New York state legislators have passed a bill legalising recreational cannabis, with Governor Andrew Cuomo saying he would sign the legislation into law.
New York will join 14 other US states and the District of Columbia in permitting cannabis use after the bill was backed by both state chambers, where Cuomo’s Democratic Party holds strong majorities.
“For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences,” Cuomo said in a statement.
“This landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James also welcomed the vote saying, the legalisation of cannabis “is a racial and criminal justice imperative, and today’s vote is a critical step towards a fairer and more just system.”
Cuomo’s office has said the change could net an additional $350m in annual tax revenues and create tens of thousands of jobs.
The decision was also welcomed by NORML, a pro-cannabis group, which said that tens of thousands of New Yorkers were arrested every year over petty cannabis offences, and that most were young, poor, and people of colour.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who is running for mayor in New York City also welcomed the move writing on social media, “About time!”
The law will allow adults aged 21 and above to buy cannabis and grow plants for personal consumption at home, with a plan to divert some funds to drug treatment and education.
New York would also automatically clear records of people with past cannabis-related convictions.
Yes New York is legalizing marijuana! About time! 👍🗽❤️ https://t.co/NjCHMaF98K
— Andrew Yang🧢🗽🇺🇸 (@AndrewYang) March 29, 2021
The law would also eliminate penalties for possession of up to three ounces (85 grammes) of the drug, the new personal possession limit.
An existing medical-cannabis programme will also be expanded.
The state plans to tax cannabis sales at 9 percent, with revenues from an additional 4-percent tax divided between local and county government.
The move comes as Cuomo faces an investigation over an alleged pattern of sexually harassing and intimidating women employees, as well as accusations his administration orchestrated a cover-up of nursing home deaths related to COVID-19.