• April 14, 2021

New York, New York: Marijuana Legalization Close in Empire State

 New York, New York: Marijuana Legalization Close in Empire State

Photo by Franco Folini

BINGHAMTON, NY – All eyes are on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and not because of his scandals. On Tuesday, recreational marijuana legalization sailed through both the state Senate and Assembly, which paves the way for New York to become the 17th state to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis.

Cuomo was part of negotiations on the measure and is expected to sign the bill into law, which will put the state on track to unleash a new, progressive and targeted marijuana marketplace by next year.  

“Today we are ending a 90-year prohibition,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said while introducing the measure on the assembly floor Tuesday afternoon.

The legislation overhauls the state’s existing medical marijuana and hemp programs. It lumps those existing programs into a central office overseen by a control board that will also oversee recreational, or “adult-use,” cannabis. The measure also reduces the harsh penalties that have met New Yorkers – especially Black and Brown ones – for generations now, expunges former low-level marijuana convictions and seeks to reinvest tax revenue from cannabis sales to the communities most affected by the ‘war on drugs.’

Once sales begin, New York is poised to be one of the largest recreational cannabis markets in the country

“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” Empire State NORML Deputy Director Troy Smit told The News Station. “It’s taken a great amount of work and perseverance by activists, patients, and consumers to go from being the cannabis arrest capital of the world, to lead the world with a legalized market dedicated to equity, diversity, and inclusion. This might not be the perfect piece of legislation, but today, cannabis consumers can hold their heads high and smell the flowers.”

The measure, called the MRTA in Albany, was first introduced in New York in 2013 but has been stymied, largely due to opposition by Cuomo. In early March, facing a deteriorating public image amid an ever-growing onslaught of scandals, Cuomo began attempting to shore up support among the Black community. He hosted several public announcements closed to the press due to “COVID-19 restricitons,” where he surrounded himself with Black and Brown community leaders. 

Around that time he also reversed course on marijuana. After bucking legalization for several years, Cuomo changed his mind. Only a few weeks later, this marijuana bill landed on his desk. 

The final legislation contains little from Cuomo’s original legislative proposal, making it unclear how much sway he really had in negotiations.

Once sales begin, New York is poised to be one of the largest recreational cannabis markets in the country and is expected to grow to scale over the next few years. Previous figures by the New York Department of Health estimate the state’s market for cannabis to be as large as $3.5 billion.

Read The News Station’s comprehensive rundown of what’s in New York’s marijuana legalization measure: Complete Guide to the Empire State’s New Marijuana Bill

Vaughn Golden


Vaughn’s currently based in New York’s north country. His journalistic escapades include freelancing for the New York Post, the Albany Times Union, Democracy Now, the Ithaca Voice, and several public radio stations across the country. Vaughn holds a bachelor’s from Ithaca College with majors in journalism and economics.

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