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Politics and Government

NY lawmakers debate for hours on pot legalization deal

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Brett Levin
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Flickr

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Lawmakers in New York began debating a bill Tuesday that would legalize marijuana sales to people over the age of 21.

Legislative leaders in the state Senate and Assembly launched hours-long debates Tuesday afternoon, with votes in both chambers expected later on in the evening.

New York would become the 16th state to legalize marijuana sales to adults. New York would become the third state where lawmakers, rather than voters, have approved legalization.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top Democrats in the Assembly and Senate announced Saturday they reached an agreement to expand the state’s existing medical marijuana program, allow individual New Yorkers to grow six plants for personal consumption and set up a licensing and taxation system for recreational sales.

It has taken years for the state’s lawmakers to come to a consensus on how to legalize recreational marijuana amid debates over impaired driving, where to direct revenues and whether legalization would make it easier for children to access marijuana. Democrats, who now wield a veto-proof majority in the state Legislature, have made passing it a priority this year. Legalization could eventually bring the state about $350 million annually, according to Cuomo’s administration.

Local governments could opt out of retail sales.

New York would set a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and local government. It would also impose an additional tax based on the level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, ranging from 0.5 cents per milligram for flower to 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

The legislation would take effect immediately if passed, though sales wouldn’t start until New York sets up regulations and a proposed cannabis board. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes has estimated it could take 18 months to two years for sales to start.