New York Passes Historic Cannabis Legalization Bill, Next Stop Is Gov. Cuomo

On March 30, 2021, late in the evening, the New York legislature passed the landmark MRTA (Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act) bill legalizing marijuana in the Empire state. Through the hard work of people impacted by prohibition, advocates and champion lawmakers, like Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Liz Krueger, New York has taken action to chip away the remnants of the war on drugs.

“Today, the Assembly and the Senate modeled what democracy actually looks like when the legislature allows progressive movements to lead towards justice” said Jawanza James Williams, Director of Organizing with VOCAL-NY. “We did not fight simply for legalization’s sake, but worked for years to craft legislation rooted in racial and economic justice, in an effort to repair harms while also setting a new standard for anti-racist, class-conscious, and gender-expansive policymaking. This is a massive success for New Yorkers, and for communities across the United States. We implore the Governor to immediately sign the MRTA into law.”

“Make no mistake about it, New York has made history today by ensuring marijuana reform is on track to become the law of the land. Through the hard work of people impacted by prohibition, advocates and champion lawmakers, like Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Liz Krueger, New York has taken bold action to put a nail in the coffin of the war on drugs,” said Melissa Moore, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “This law comprehensively addresses the harms of overcriminalization and establishes one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization programs in the nation. Through this sweeping legislation, New York is delivering reforms that place community reinvestment, social equity, and justice at the core of the law. At long last, victory is here. We urge Governor Cuomo to sign the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law immediately.”

“For years, New York marijuana convictions have caused immeasurable harm to immigrant communities across New York State,” said Jose Chapa, Senior Policy Associate at the Immigrant Defense Project. “Thanks to the work of countless advocates, our partners at the Drug Policy Alliance and Start SMART NY, New Yorkers seeking status or immigration relief will be able to vacate old marijuana convictions to clear the path to become residents and citizens, thanks to the passage of the MRTA.”

“Thank you DPA, community organizers, advocates, Majority Leader Crystal People-Stokes, Senator Liz Krueger and our lawmakers who stood with us pushing for legalization, together we did it! While it has been a journey, we will celebrate this joyous day but not without understanding this is only the beginning. It is essential that we see fair representation of minorities and women in the Office of Cannabis Management and on advisory boards that will oversee our in-state program. We have a community of women who are ready to work with legislators as the next round of work unfolds. This bill will serve many groups but we must first address the communities most harmed. We owe them. It is critical that we educate whole communities on these new laws before they take effect and give our people access to the opportunities we fought for in this bill. Let’s celebrate by taking steps to repair,” said Gia Morón, Women Grow.

“Over a century since marijuana was first prohibited in the US, New York state finally moves one step closer toward redressing the harms perpetuated against Black and Latinx communities through its prohibition by passing this historic legislation. We applaud the tireless work of countless directly impacted individuals who have been on the frontlines of pushing for its passage and call on Governor Cuomo to sign it into law immediately,” said Juan Cartagena, LatinoJustice.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants. It’s taken a great amount of work and perseverance by activists, patients, and consumers, to go from being the cannabis arrest capital of the world, to lead the world with a legalized market dedicated to equity, diversity, and inclusion. This might not be the perfect piece of legislation, but today, cannabis consumers can hold their heads high and smell the flowers. Senator Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes have laid the groundwork for marijuana justice and a consumer-centric industry. Now, it’s time for the Office of Cannabis Management to take up their torch and implement regulations that protect patient and consumer rights. In the words of our late Director, Doug Greene – Cannabis Excelsior!” said Troy Smit, Empire State NORML.

“New York’s approach to cannabis regulation and taxation is historic in its focus on reinvestment in the communities most harmed by over-policing and over-prosecution of cannabis-related offenses,” said Tracie Gardner, Legal Action Center’s Vice President of Policy Advocacy. “We are deeply grateful to the leadership and tireless advocacy of the Start SMART coalition for its unwavering commitment to ensuring that New York’s cannabis legalization centers on equity and justice.”

“As a child, I experienced firsthand the devastating impact the War on Drugs was having on communities of color. As a student leader/activist, New York State drug policy reform became the first issue I worked on. As a community, we have learned that legalization is important, but it must be coupled with equitable strategies to help repair the harm done to poor communities and communities of color during this unjust war. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) incorporates racial and economic justice that begins to right the wrongs of the past and present and encompasses the necessary visionary strategies to give hope and opportunity to our young people. MRTA begins to address both the racial and the economic inequalities that plague Western New York by calling for direct investments back into the communities that have been disproportionately harmed by biased and unjust policing and incarceration policies,” said Franchelle Parker, Executive Director of Open Buffalo.

“Thanks to the tireless dedication of our legislative leaders and people statewide, New Yorkers are on the verge of a new paradigm where cannabis can help heal our communities, regenerate the environment and revitalize local economies. New York has the potential to become the national leader in forward-looking cannabis policies that protect and repair the planet, create equitable opportunity for all and afford justice to those harmed by past practices. We look forward to continuing our work with state officials and regulators to ensure we succeed,” said Donna Burns of NY Small Farma.

“The New York Minority Alliance is proud to be part of such historical legislation that includes equitable access and resources in Entrepreneurship, Social Justice, Community Reinvestment and Health Equity for Black and Latinx communities. We congratulate all that were involved and thank the NYS Legislature for this day!” said Yasmin Hurston, President of New York Minority Alliance


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