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New York state passes bill legalizing recreational marijuana

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Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples Stokes discusses what's in the bill that would legalize recreational marijuana

Shortly after 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the New York State Assembly voted 100-49 to pass the marijuana legalization bill.

The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has ten days to approve or veto once it lands on his desk - otherwise, the bill becomes law.

The legislation also provide protections for people from being discriminated for marijuana use in public housing, schools and colleges and the workplace.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who sponsored the bill, likened the passage of the bill to when alcohol became legal again in NY.

'We know a lot of adults do use these products safely, they lead highly functional lives, they lead to no severe health outcomes and we need to have a society that doesn't criminalize that type of action and provides support for people who end up having problems with it, ' he said.

For years, Cuomo's administration sought to legalize cannabis, which could eventually bring in upwards of $350 million annually for the state.

After covering the state's costs of regulation and enforcement, tax revenues would go to schools, drug treatment and prevention programs and a fund for investing in job skills, adult education, mental health and other services in communities that bore the brunt of the national and state drug war.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation legalizing recreational adult-use marijuana in NY. NY would become the third state where lawmakers, rather than voters, have approved legalization. And stricter local smoking rules apply: New York City bans smoking in parks and on beaches, for instance. She has been a longtime proponent of legalizing recreational marijuana and says she looks forward to the bill passing.

"This is a historic day in NY - one that 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.

The taxes are considerable: a 9% statewide sales tax, an additional 4% county and local tax and another tax based on the level of THC, marijuana's active ingredient.

NY would start automatically expunging records of people with past convictions for marijuana-related offenses that would no longer be criminalized.

The law would also eliminate penalties for possession of up to three ounces of the drug (85 grams), the new personal possession limit. A police officer could still use the odor of burnt cannabis as a reason to suspect a driver is intoxicated, but the officer couldn't use that smell alone as justification for searching a vehicle for contraband.

"By placing community reinvestment, social equity, and justice front and center, this law is the new gold standard for reform efforts nationwide", said Melissa Moore, New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Peoples-Stokes has estimated it could take 18 months to two years for sales to start.

Joseph Bayern, CEO of Curaleaf Holdings Inc, the largest US cannabis company by market value, called New York's legalization a "significant milestone for the cannabis industry" and said he now expects Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maryland would likely follow suit.

Medicinal patients in the state can begin growing six months after the bill's enactment and those looking to grow recreationally must wait until 18 months after the opening of the first dispensary. Voters moved to legalize recreational and medical use of marijuana in South Dakota in November, though it is now being challenged in the state's Supreme Court. The move comes after multiple failed attempts at legalization in NY, and makes it the 15th state to legalize weed. Dispensaries won't open until more than a year from now, and localities could opt out of allowing such businesses. Other states, including Vermont, have required municipalities to opt-in to allow retail operations.

NY officials plan to conduct a study that will examine the extent that cannabis impairs driving, and whether it depends on factors like time and metabolism.

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