New York’s cannabis legalization puts social justice front and center

The latest state to join the growing list of states that have legalized recreational cannabis use is New York. Signed into law this week, the bill makes recreational cannabis available for purchase and legal possession in 18 months when the state draws up regulations surrounding its legalization. 

Under the new law, residents over the age of 21 will be able to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and use it in public with exemption of smoking-free areas such as college campuses, workplaces, and within 100 feet of schools. 

In addition to legalizing possession, the new law will also expunge the criminal records of individuals with certain past marijuana-related convictions. Social justice advocates argue this is an important step for addressing the inequities of a criminal justice system that has incarcerated people of color for marijuana offenses at disproportionate rates. 

Revenue from taxes on legal cannabis, estimated at $300 million annually, will go towards implementing legalization infrastructure as well as schools and drug treatment and prevention programs. It will also go towards a fund for investing in job skills, adult education, mental health and other services in communities that were disproportionately affected by the “war on drugs.”

The legalization of cannabis is an important step for individuals who rely on it as a natural therapeutic medicine, but it’s also crucial for ushering in legitimate reparations for the damage done by drug laws which specifically targeted communities of color. 

Melissa Moore, New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance said, “By placing community reinvestment, social equity, and justice front and center, this law is the new gold standard for reform efforts nationwide.”

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