New York is expected to become one of the next states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who, up until last year, maintained that this level of reform would never happen while he was king of the castle, has essentially guaranteed a law will find its way on the books sometime in 2019. Still, there is a certain degree of uncertainty surrounding the implementation of such a deal, like how will it be taxed, who will get the money, and, perhaps more importantly, can lawmakers come to terms enough to ensure its passage?
If we’ve learned anything from other legal states, it’s that lawmakers all have a very different opinion about how marijuana laws should shake out. In the case of New York, while negotiations over legal weed will take some time, lawmakers do have the benefit of looking at several legal marijuana jurisdictions for guidance. Colorado has been slinging legal weed for the past six years, while California has its own fair share of successes and failures to share with its eastern counterpart. So, there is a bit of a template for the Senate and the Assembly to borrow from. But with bordering states moving to legalize, as well, Cuomo believes New York will need to get as close as possible to matching those schemes because “they are naturally competitors in the marketplace.”
Governor Cuomo is expected to reveal the details of how his administration would like to legalization go down this week. That could quite possibly include a proposed state excise tax of somewhere between 15 and 17 percent along with as much as a 3 percent local tax. He said recently that New York has to keep marijuana prices fair to discourage the black market and contribute to a workable program.
“If you charge too much, you will drive the business back to the illegal sales because it’s just less expensive to buy it illegally than it is to buy it legally,” he said. “And since it’s legal anyway, you don’t really have a criminal violation for the illegal purchase.”
Early reports show that New York stands to rake in around $700 million during the first year of legal sales. How this cash would be distributed is still up for debate. Some lawmakers want to go the route that other states have taken – divvying up the funds between education, drug treatment and road construction — while others would like to see the money go toward the rejuvenation of the subway system.
In Cuomo’s mind, the money generated from legal weed should be put back into those communities hit the hardest by decades of prohibition. “That’s something where we’re working on,” he said.
It should come as no surprise that not all community leaders are in favor of legalizing marijuana. Many still believe a move of this magnitude will have a negative impact on public health and safety. Stoned driving is a primary concern. But these opinions will not likely have a heavy hand in swaying New York’s path to legalization. At this point, it seems almost unstoppable.
Once lawmakers find a compromise over how legal weed will look, the only question left is when will the people have the ability to purchase weed legally? Not real soon. Even the most motivated plan could take in upwards of 18 months before cannabis stores could open for business. So, the best case scenario is sometime in late 2020.