New York state wasn’t able to legalize recreational cannabis this year, but the state’s governor signed a bill Monday to decriminalize pot, meaning users will face fines rather than jail time for possessing small amounts.
The penalty for possessing less than one ounce of cannabis is US$50 and the maximum fine jumps to US$200 for carrying one to two ounces of pot.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said the measure will also help clear the records of people with low-level marijuana convictions by automatically sealing their records and creating a process for expungement. More than 360,000 people were arrested for possession of cannabis in New York state from 2008 to 2017, according the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The bill will take effect on Aug. 27 after becoming law.
“By providing individuals who have suffered the consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction with a path to have their records expunged and by reducing draconian penalties, we are taking a critical step forward in addressing a broken and discriminatory criminal justice process,” Cuomo said in a release.
I just signed legislation decriminalizing marijuana use in New York & creating a process for expunging past convictions.
Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice. pic.twitter.com/PBSXWbQtiW
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) July 29, 2019
Advocates, Cuomo wanted New York to legalize
New York will be the 15th U.S. state to decriminalize marijuana after Hawaii did the same this month. But 11 states and the District of Columbia have taken a step further and fully legalized recreational cannabis use since Colorado was the first to do so in 2014.
New York’s Democrat governor stated late last year that legalizing cannabis was one of his top priorities for the 2019 legislative session, arguing the state could use the tax revenues from legal cannabis sales to address a myriad of issues including fixing New York City’s beleaguered subway system. A state report during that time estimated legal pot sales could range from US$1.7 billion and US$3.5 billion annually.
New York Democrats control both the state House and Senate and lawmakers made several attempts to legalize cannabis but their efforts came up short by June because they couldn’t agree on how to regulate the industry and spend the tax revenues. The failure to pass a legalization bill led to the state settling on decriminalization.
New York state deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, Melissa Moore, said the law doesn’t go far enough and it won’t stop authorities from targeting people of color and their communities for cannabis enforcement.
New York state: a potential pot industry diamond
Considering New York is the fourth most populous state in the U.S., the cannabis industry would love to see it become legal there.
Cannabis research firm BDS Analytics estimates legal sales of the drug will reach US$44.8 billion in the U.S. by 2024. According to the firm, a large chunk of that predicted legal cannabis market hinges on New York state joining the growing pool of U.S. states going legal.
Various Wall Street firms offer a wide range of estimates for the global legal pot market. Whether its Jefferies estimating US$50 billion in global sales by 2029, or Stifel analyst Andrew Carter’s prediction of US$200 billion in global sales in a decade, one thing that remains consistent is the U.S. is viewed as the crown jewel for generating revenues.
The cannabis industry is rapidly evolving, but legalization, especially in the U.S., is the main engine in creating the expanding marijuana market. A state like New York could very well be a major domino in pushing legalization and the industry forward in the next few years.