On March 31, New York state legalized recreational marijuana use — an effort years in the making — while setting regulations for a new industry and its taxation.
Spanning 128 pages, the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act addresses everything from enforcement and criminal justice reform to how taxes will be levied against marijuana producers and retailers and how those dollars can be spent.
The bill’s passage received mixed reactions from Baldwin residents, with some supporting it and sharing their excitement, while others expressed disappointment in its passage.
“I’m in favor of legalization for home consumption,” Baldwin resident Manny Massa said, “not in the open, where it can affect others, including children. No driving on drugs.”
Baldwinite Mary Johnston agreed. “I guess if you want to partake of it in the privacy of your own home, that’s fine,” she said. “Unfortunately, I think people will abuse this and smoke outside the home, infringing on other people’s rights. I also think that our wonderful politicians haven’t thought everything out enough, because they are blinded by the money that taxes on weed will bring in for the state.”
“I hate it,” Baldwin resident Jlynn Mugz said. “I hate that I have to walk through the stench because one person wants to do it. I hate that my son knows what it smells like. I hate that people ‘park up’ in front of my house to walk to the park to buy it.”
“In my opinion, marijuana un-motivates people,” Baldwinite Linda Kalb Salamone said. “We need more motivated people, especially young people. I’m against it.”
Other residents were supportive. “It’s about time,” Kim Tasik said. Municipalities that “choose to ‘opt out’ of allowing dispensaries in the near future are making a huge mistake. The marijuana industry is big money and would bring in lots of tax dollars and new jobs.”
“I think it’s great,” Meli Mel said. “The benefits outweigh the negatives. It’s way less dangerous than drinking alcohol, which is extremely accepted in Baldwin.”
Barbara Johnson LaGrassa shared support, adding that smoking marijuana and driving should not be allowed, since there is currently no chemical test for it.
“It’s about time. Too many people’s lives have been ruined because their drug of choice isn’t the more deadly alcohol,” she said. “No one has ever [overdosed] on pot, yet people die from alcohol poisoning every single day. And yet we joke about and celebrate alcohol and getting drunk, while incarcerating those who get high on pot.”
Among the major provisions in the legislation is the creation of a new agency to regulate marijuana sales. The Office of Cannabis Management and its five-person governing board would be the chief entity responsible for regulating the state’s nascent marijuana industry, setting the number of sale and use permits allowed per region, as well as recommending regulations, among other responsibilities.
Chief among the legislation’s priorities is to seek redress for decades of unequal enforcement of marijuana laws in communities of color, according to Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat from Elmont and one of the bill’s co-sponsors in the Assembly.
“Since the 1970s, we’ve been fighting this war on drugs, and it has produced unequal outcomes across different racial groups, and communities of color bear the impact of discriminatory drug laws,” she said.
In Nassau County, Black and Hispanic people make up 25 percent of the population but account for 55 percent of marijuana arrests, according to a 2018 report from the New York Civil Liberties Union. A Black or Hispanic person is four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white one, the same report read.
Upon its passage into law, the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act automatically expunged arrest records statewide for low-level marijuana offenses. “For the average person who was the victim of stop and frisk, they’re given some restitution,” Solages said, referring to a controversial policing tactic used in New York City that disproportionately affected communities of color.
Forty percent of tax dollars generated from the industry would go to a fund for social equity, which would support several service programs such as workforce development and programs for families who have been hurt by drug enforcement laws, Solages said.
According to the bill, the Office of Cannabis Management governing board would be charged with appointing a chief equity officer, who would be responsible for developing education plans targeted at the communities most harmed by drug laws on how to obtain the licenses and permits needed to gain entry to the cannabis industry.
Additionally, the social equity fund would provide for low-cost loans and incubator programs to ease access into the business. “For any person who wants to get into the business of cannabis, they’ll be given the opportunity to do so,” Solages said.
Tax dollars from cannabis sales, she said, would also be put toward law enforcement and education programs to ensure underage children do not have access to marijuana and police are better able to enforce DUI laws.
Local governments would be eligible for 4 percent of cannabis tax revenue, and while counties would be barred from opting out of marijuana sale and use in their jurisdictions, cities, towns and villages could, with a provision that residents could hold a referendum to override village and town officials’ decision.
Solages said she anticipated actual sale of marijuana would not happen in New York for at least another year. Ultimately, Solages said, the bill would seek to regulate an industry that already exists, but unofficially. Already, nearby states such as New Jersey have legalized recreational marijuana use. “Keeping it unregulated,” she said, “is doing ourselves a disservice as a state.”
Bridget Downes contributed to this story.