ALBANY, N.Y. (March 31, 2021) – On Tuesday night, the New York legislature gave final approval to a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use in the state despite federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Liz Krueger (D-NYC) introduced Senate Bill 854 (S854) in January. Asm. Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) sponsored a companion bill in the Assembly (A1248). The proposed law would legalize possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana by adults 21 and older, and create a tax and regulatory structure for the commercial cultivation and sale of cannabis. The law would also legalize home cultivation of marijuana with a limit of three mature plants per person and six mature plants per household.
S854 also includes provisions to create a process to expunge the records of people with past marijuana convictions in the state.
On Tuesday, the Assembly substituted the senate bill for A1248 and passed S854 by a 100-49 vote. the Senate gave final approval to the measure by a 40-23 vote. It now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his consideration. The governor has indicated that he will sign the bill.
“Tonight, the New York State Legislature took the first step in a major leap forward for the Empire State by passing legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014. The legalization of recreational cannabis would remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
New York joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. South Dakota, New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election and Mississippi legalized medicinal cannabis.
With 36 states now allowing cannabis for medical use, and 15 legalizing for recreational adult-use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.
Gov. Cuomo will have 10 days from the date S854 is transmitted to his office to sign or veto the bill. If he takes no action, it will become law without his signature.