New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana on Wednesday, with a large chunk of tax revenues from sales set to go to minority communities.
New York joins 14 other US states and the District of Columbia in permitting cannabis after lawmakers in both state chambers, where Cuomo’s Democratic Party holds strong majorities, backed the bill on Tuesday.
“For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences,” Cuomo said in a statement late Tuesday.
“This landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public.”
Cuomo’s office has said the change could net an additional $350 million in annual tax revenues and create tens of thousands of jobs.
Forty percent of the tax revenue will be steered towards Black and Latino communities in which people have disproportionately been arrested on marijuana charges, according to US media.
The law will allow adults 21 and over to purchase cannabis and grow plants for personal consumption at home, with a plan to divert some funds to drug treatment and education.
New York would automatically clear records of people with past convictions of 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. An existing medical-marijuana program would be expanded.
The state plans to tax marijuana sales at nine percent, with revenues from an additional four-percent tax divided between local and county governments.
The move comes as Cuomo faces an investigation over an alleged pattern of sexually harassing and intimidating women employees, as well as accusations his administration orchestrated a cover-up of nursing home deaths related to COVID-19.