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Cuomo Unveils Plan to Make NY 11th State to Legalize Pot

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York would become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults under a proposal unveiled Tuesday by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The measure would permit personal use as well as retail sales of the drug. Marijuana taxes would raise an estimated $300 million a year, Cuomo said. Cities and counties could prohibit retail pot shops within their boundaries if they choose.

Legalization was the most notable of several big ideas floated by Cuomo during his annual State of the State address on Tuesday, including new congestion tolls in Manhattan and a statewide ban on plastic bags.

“The time for talking is over,” Cuomo said in the speech. “It is the time for doing.”

Removing penalties for recreational marijuana has broad support in the Democrat-controlled Senate and Assembly. Cuomo inserted the measure into his $175 billion state budget proposal, which lawmakers plan to act on by April 1.

Two years ago Cuomo dismissed marijuana as a “gateway drug” but now says he supports legalization following a study by state health officials who determined the benefits of legalization outweigh the risks. The governor’s change of opinion mirrors a similar evolution across the country. If New York follows through with legalizing marijuana it would be the 10th state and the second largest after California to take the step.

The proposal comes with a plan to seal past marijuana convictions, a provision lawmakers like Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, have said must be a part of the discussion. Many Democrats in the Legislature say the state cannot legalize pot without trying to help New Yorkers whose lives were negatively impacted by decades of marijuana prohibition.

Heastie said after Cuomo’s speech that “there has to be some economic empowerment, particularly for communities for color, who as the governor did mention, have really been on the opposite end when it comes to criminalizing marijuana.”

While there’s broad agreement in Albany about legalization, figuring out the details when it comes to taxing, licensing and regulating the product is likely to be challenging. Also, Cuomo’s proposal would not allow individuals to grow their own marijuana; recreational users would be required to purchase the product at a store. That’s a restriction not included in some of the other initial legalization proposals from lawmakers.

“We’re going to need to see details,” said Sen. Joe Griffo, R-Rome. “If you’re going to do this, you should do it right. Take a look at what other states have done, and learn from them.”

Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health, one of the 10 companies now licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana, hailed Cuomo’s proposal as “a historic step” but said it would need to be studied carefully to ensure it doesn’t undermine the existing medical pot market.

Opponents of legalization say they’ll fight to derail Cuomo’s proposal.

“No matter how many states try, pot does not bring the promised ‘windfall’ of revenue,” said Kevin Sabet, president of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization. “This fight is far from over. We will be making our voices heard.”

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