New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation on Wednesday to legalize cannabis for recreational use.
New York is now the fifteenth U.S. state that has legalized cannabis usage, and represents a potentially broad market for consumption. Residents will be allowed to smoke pot anywhere that smoking tobacco is allowed, although local jurisdictions may enact stricter rules on where marijuana use is permitted.
The law signed by Cuomo directs 40 percent of tax revenue from marijuana sales toward communities where African American and Latino residents have been “disproportionately” arrested on charges stemming from marijuana use, the New York Times reported.
“Unlike any other state in America, this legislation is intentional about equity,” Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, the Democratic Majority Leader in the state assembly and a sponsor of the bill, said in a floor speech. “Equity is not a second thought, it’s the first one and it needs to be, because the people who paid the price for this war on drugs have lost so much.”
Cuomo initially resisted the legalization bill because he wanted the executive branch to have greater control over tax revenue from marijuana sales, but relented once the bill was sent to his desk.
The bill “rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Cuomo is facing multiple scandals that may have placed more leverage in state lawmakers’ hands. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the Cuomo administration over allegations the governor’s aides presented false data on coronavirus nursing home deaths to the department.
Multiple women have also accused the governor of sexual harassment. In the latest allegation, a resident of upstate New York accused Cuomo of grabbing her face and kissing her, and provided a photograph of the incident.