Senate and Assembly amend bill that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes speaks about the disproportionate impact of marijuana prohibition on minority communities. Two bills have been amended and are in committee that would remove marijuana from the New York Controlled Substances Act and allow the State Liquor Authority to regulate and tax sales from licensed dispensaries.

A bill recently amended in both the Senate and Assembly this week would essentially decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in New York state.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (S.3040-a/A.3506-a) decriminalize possession of up to two pounds of marijuana as well as the private cultivation of up to six plants. The bill would also allow for the establishment of a legal marketplace for marijuana products in New York state.

The bill removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allows for its regulation by the State Liquor Authority, similar to the way in which tobacco or alcohol is managed.

“We have outdated laws in New York state that are hurting real people, real families,” said Senator Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan. “We have legal tobacco, and that kills you. We have legal alcohol which also can kill you. And yet marijuana which is far less dangerous than either of those products, kills you if we send you to jail.”

“Our laws are so antiquated, and the people of New York state are with us,” added Krueger. “If this was a referendum state, we would probably already have legal marijuana.”

Krueger was also quick to point out there is no major anti-marijuana lobby, and that drug laws as they stand in New York state disproportionately impact minorities and young people. Since 1996, approximately 800,000 people have been arrested for low level marijuana possession. According to the ACLU, in 2010 alone the cost of enforcing marijuana possession laws, in just New York state, was $675 million.

“This is something that we need to make happen, we don’t even have to reinvent the wheel. We are basing this on what other states have already done,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo. “What other things that have worked for them, what hasn’t worked isn’t in here.”

Four other states have adopted similar regulation and taxation strategies: Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska. Colorado, for example, is currently weighing how to spend $100 million of new tax revenue generated from its legal marijuana economy.

While Colorado is the 19th largest economy in the United States on a basis of gross state product, New York state is the 3rd by GSP, meaning the potential for new tax revenue is high. In a 2013 study by the New York City Comptroller’s Office, it was found that legal marijuana markets could produce an estimated $400 million in tax revenue, in the city of New York alone. It is estimated that the people of New York state spend about $3 billion a year on marijuana products.

This bill also includes an initiative to help people in communities who have seen disproportionate contact with the judicial system afforded the opportunity to see past convictions reclassified as well as opportunities for people currently serving jail time for marijuana related crimes re-sentenced to reflect the changes in law.

“Black and brown people who are incarcerated in mass numbers for marijuana ought to have the opportunities to make business when it becomes legal in New York, because it will be become legal in New York, Peoples-Stokes said.”

Peoples-Stokes’ bill (A.3506) was amended and recommitted to the Assembly Codes Committee on June 13, and Krueger’s bill was amended and recommitted to the Senate Finance Committee on June 9.