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By Julius Apostata

Heeeeyyyy, man! Did you, like, hear the totally awesome news? Of course you have, because, like, it’s just that FAR OUT! Like, you know how we would always have to go to the nature preserve to hit up a blunt? Well, we still probably have to do that to get high anyway, but guess what? WEED HAS OFFICIALLY BEEN LEGALIZED IN NEW YORK! We have officially reached NIRVANA, man! *Ahem*, bad stoner jokes aside, this is actually the case; on March 31st, New York became the sixteenth state to legalize the use of recreational marijuana, with Governor Cuomo signing the legislation to make it law. Naturally, there is a lot to celebrate with this law, yet despite quite a lot of good things to come out of this, there are still some challenges that have arisen that we should consider. So, I plan on breaking down the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to this new legislation. What will this law look like in practice, and how will it affect consumers and New York State residents?

Although the bill, Senate Bill S854A, was first created on January 6th, 2021, several interactions of the bill have previously existed and have put forward to New York legislation, with the earliest bill (S6005) having first been introduced on December 11th, 2013. In spite of this, and having to go through a series of minor changes, the core tenets of the bill are still the same. Firstly, the use of recreational marijuana is now legalized for use amongst adults aged 21 or older. So long as the person is of legal age, they are permitted to carry up to 3 ounces of marijuana on their person (considerably more compared to other legalized states) as well as a total of 5 pounds kept safely in their place of residence. The bill also makes attempts to treat public consumption of marijuana similar to tobacco; state and local governments have the ability to designate smoking zones for marijuana, while simultaneously levying fines of 25 dollars to those in violation of the policy. The law also permits the growing of marijuana plants in one’s home, with someone being able to have up to twelve plants per household. Perhaps most impressively (and admirably) is how this law will affect past criminal records for marijuana-related conduct: such crimes will automatically be expunged from the person’s criminal record. Now that’s what I call far out!

Of course, not everything to come from this is necessarily perfect. Obviously, this doesn’t change how marijuana is perceived at the federal level; while New York now allows for recreational marijuana use, that isn’t necessarily true for the federal government (though there are ongoing attempts to change this), meaning you will likely face legal difficulty if trying to bring in marijuana from another state. Another issue is the fact that, although marijuana is now legalized and you will no longer be arrested for possession of a dime bag, that doesn’t necessarily mean that consumers will be able to immediately find it on the market. According to some experts, it will likely take at least a year (optimistically speaking) before you can find a licensed retail dispensary. Compounding this is the fact that, despite permitting the ownership of marijuana plants, New York residents are unable to actually have grown these plants for a total of 18 months. Consequently, we would likely expect New York residents to still rely on going to their local dealer for their weed fix, at least for the next 12 to 18 months

This isn’t even mentioning one of the most obvious benefits for the state government, but not necessarily for New York consumers: taxes. The bill itself purports to create at least 30,000 jobs through the passing of this legislation. However, the addition of both state and local retail taxes could also stifle this job market. At a state level, it is expected that there will be a 9% state tax on marijuana sales, with an additional 4% tax added for local taxes. Additionally, for every 10 milligrams of flower, you would have to pay 5 cents, while also paying 8 and 30 cents for the same amount of THC concentrate and edibles, respectively. While this would net the New York State government an additional $350 million in revenue, these taxes are comparatively higher to other states that have legalized marijuana. Massachusetts, by contrast, levies taxes of 10.75% (depending on the city); Illinois, 10%; in Alaska, there isn’t even a statewide retail tax for weed, although some municipalities, such as Anchorage, may charge as much as 5% in taxes. These additional taxes could present a challenge, especially to those trying to go through the legal process of licensing and setting up shop in New York. Needless to say, the “ugly” here are the taxes we should expect to pay if residents plan on purchasing marijuana at legal vendors.

Still, the passing of this legislation presents an overall benefit to our lives; while there may be some issues in the short term and the oh-so-fun experience of having to pay extra for marijuana, it is certainly better than pre-legislation. The expunging of criminal records for non-violent drug offenses related to marijuana as well as the legalization of a relatively harmless drug are all welcome changes for consumers. While there are some immediate complications, the alternative could be worse. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to tell the Geology majors that its now alright to…get STONED *dum dum tsss*!

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