New York lawmakers have reached an agreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would make recreational marijuana legal in the state. Officials said the change should help eliminate a longtime inequity—Black and Hispanic people are arrested on minor marijuana charges much more often than white people are—while setting up a $4.2 billion industry that will create thousands of jobs. "For me this is a lot more than about raising revenue: It's about investing in the lives of the people that have been damaged," said a Democratic lawmaker who's led the legalization effort for years. Cannabis use would be legal for anyone over 21, the New York Times reports, and New Yorkers will be able to grow up to six plants at home for their own use. The system will have to be set up before legal sales can begin, which officials expect to be at least a year from now.
An Office of Cannabis Management, which also would take over the state's medical use program, would issue licenses covering each step of the process: farming, processing, distribution, dispensaries, and retail "consumption sites," per CNN. Those sites would be lounges where marijuana may be consumed but alcohol may not. The office will have a social equity mandate to try to grant half of the licenses to people hurt in the past by drug laws, as well as to businesses owned by women and minorities. A 13% sales tax, to go to state and local governments, will be instituted. The plan includes a series of new criminal penalties for the unlawful possession and sale of cannabis. A Democratic supporter in the state Senate said New York will have a system that "assures people who buy the product that they are buying a legitimate product from legitimate companies." Neighboring New Jersey approved new laws last month, after voters passed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana in November. (Read more marijuana legalization stories.)