New York lawmakers are finalizing an agreement to legalize recreational marijuana sales to adults over the age of 21, a state legislative leader said Wednesday.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the chamber, said the bill is being drafted and will likely be brought up for a vote next week. Legislative sources also told NBC New York that a vote next week was likely.
“An agreement is imminently close, we hope to resolve any final bill language issues over the next few days as we await the final print version of the bill to vote on next week,” Peoples-Stokes told The Associated Press in a statement.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that they are hoping to get language finalized on parts of the bill "in the next day or so."
New York has come close to passing marijuana legalization several times in recent years, but has been unable to finalize a deal. At least 14 states have legalized recreational marijuana.
Past sticking points for legalization in New York have included lack of support from suburban Democrats and concerns over how to address drivers suspected of driving high. It was unclear Wednesday evening how any agreement would address impaired driving. Stewart-Cousins also mentioned an "impasse" regarding impaired driving, but believes that they have found a solution there.
During a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo alluded to the legalization of cannabis as one of his main priorities -- not only as a means to generate revenue, but also as a logistical decision since neighboring New Jersey and Massachusetts have voted to legalize marijuana.
Lawmakers and Cuomo have been at odds over how to handle marijuana sales tax revenue and how much of a projected windfall should go to communities of color impacted by the decades-long drug war. Cuomo’s office has estimated that, once a legal marijuana industry is fully mature, it could bring the state about $350 million annually.
"The essence of the program is really to redress the harms of the drug wars, its community investment, social equity opportunities and trying to promote small businesses in New York State," said David Holland, the president of the New York City Cannabis Industry Association.
Supporters of the measure say that in addition to the economic boost to the state, it could also bring about a change in policing. They believe that police won't have to worry about such small offenses and their time could be better spent going after more dangerous crimes.
But those hoping for quick changes to come to the Empire State may be disappointed, as experts warn even if the bill is passed, noticeable changes could be more than a year away still. The Growers and Processor Association in new York said while they could be ready to open dispensaries by the end of 2020, it will likely take longer. They also believe the state would need about 2,000 dispensaries in order to eliminate the black market.
However, not all are on board.
"Now is not the time. In the middle of a pandemic, we're battling lung disease, vaping — now they're going to add one more legal drug?" said Kyle Belokopitsky, the executive director of the state's PTA. "This makes no sense to us as parents and families."
Legislation to set up a recreational marijuana marketplace in the Garden State, decriminalize cannabis and loosen penalties for underage possession of the drug and alcohol was signed into law last month by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, more than three months after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to legalize adult use of the drug.
The Democrat-led Assembly and Senate passed the last-minute measure in February to ease penalties on underage possession of both alcohol and marijuana as a way to secure Murphy's signature on legislation they had sent him in December.