At least 14 other states already allow residents to buy marijuana for recreational and not just medical use, but New York’s past efforts to pass marijuana had failed in recent years.
Democrats who now wield a veto-proof majority in the state legislature have made passing it a priority this year, and Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has estimated legalisation could eventually bring the state about 350 dollars million (£254 million) annually.
“My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of colour across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalisation to help heal and repair those same communities,” said Liz Krueger, Senate sponsor of the bill and chairwoman of the Senate’s finance committee.
The legislation would allow recreational marijuana sales to adults over the age of 21, and set up a licensing process for the delivery of cannabis products to customers.
Individual New Yorkers could grow up to three mature and three immature plants for personal consumption, and local governments could opt out of retail sales.
The legislation would take effect immediately if passed, though sales would not start immediately as New York sets up rules and a proposed cannabis board.
Assembly majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes estimated on Friday that it could take 18 months to two years for sales to start.
Adam Goers, a vice president of Columbia Care, a New York medical marijuana provider that is interested in getting into the recreational market, said the proposed system would “ensure newcomers have a crack at the marketplace” alongside the state’s existing medical marijuana providers.
“There’s a big pie in which a lot of different folks are going to be able to be a part of it,” he said.
New York would set a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and local government. It would also impose an additional tax based on the level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, ranging from 0.5 cents per milligram for flower to 3 cents per milligram for edibles.
New York would eliminate penalties for possession of less than three ounces of cannabis, and automatically expunge records of people with past convictions for marijuana-related offences that would no longer be criminalised.
That is a step beyond a 2019 law that expunged many past convictions for marijuana possession and reduced the penalty for possessing small amounts.
New York would provide loans, grants and incubator programmes to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by people from minority communities, as well as small farmers, women and disabled veterans.
Proponents have said the move could create thousands of jobs and begin to address the racial injustice of a decades-long drug war that disproportionately targeted minority and poor communities.
Melissa Moore, the Drug Policy Alliance’s director for New York state, said the bill “really puts a nail in the coffin of the drug war that’s been so devastating to communities across New York, and puts in place comprehensive policies that are really grounded in community reinvestment”.
Past efforts to legalise recreational use have been damaged by a lack of support from suburban Democrats, disagreements over how to distribute marijuana sales tax revenue and questions over how to address drivers suspected of driving while high.
It also has run into opposition from law enforcement, school and community advocates, who warn legalisation would further strain a health care system already overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, and send mixed messages to young people.
New York officials plan to launch an education and prevention campaign aimed at reducing the risk of cannabis among school-aged children, and schools could get grants for anti-vaping and drug prevention and awareness programs.
The state will also launch a study of the extent that cannabis impairs driving, and whether it depends on factors like time and metabolism.