December 5, 2021

Legal pot brings revenue, equity opportunities

Associated Press

Marijuana plants grow at an indoor cannabis farm Aug. 15, 2019, in Gardena, California

A bill Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law Wednesday legalizing recreational use of marijuana for people over 21 will bring social equity and tax revenue to Cortland County, said Allan Gandelman, founder and president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association.

The legalization would expunge all criminal records for past low-level cannabis offenses and bring at least 50,000 jobs to the state, said Gandelman, who co-owns Hand & Heal, a certified organic hemp production farm in Cortland, and Main Street Farms. There will be a 9% state sales tax. Cortland County and its municipalities would share a 4% tax, three quarters of which would go to the municipalities and the rest to the county.

“A few months ago, the decision was very heavily based on tax revenue, but recently it’s been a lot more based on the social equity piece,” Gandelman said. “That piece of the bill is so strong now that it is the No. 1 priority of legalizing cannabis at this point.”

New York will start expunging the criminal records of individuals with certain marijuana-related convictions, and law enforcement in the state won’t be able to arrest or prosecute individuals for possession of marijuana up to 3 ounces.

“This is a historic day in New York — one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits,” Cuomo said Wednesday in a release.

But sale of recreational of marijuana won’t become legal until the state creates regulations.

When that does happen, however, other concerns arise. Matthew Whitman, director of Cortland Communities That Cares, says legalization could make access easier for teens and Cortland police Detective Lt. Michael Strangeway is worried how officers will test for levels of THC in the field.

Marijuana users will be protected under the legislation in the workplace, at home, in family courts and schools, and in colleges and universities.

Unlike other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, New Yorkers can now smoke in public.

What it means

Legalization of marijuana in New York will allow:

  • Personal possession outside of the home up to 3 ounces.
  • Personal possession inside of the home up to three mature plants and three immature plants for people over 21.
  • People with a larger list of medical conditions to access medical marijuana and permit home cultivation of medical cannabis for patients.
  • Establishment of retail stores.
  • The state to collect a 9% sales tax.
  • Counties and their municipalities to share a 4% tax.
  • Taxes to be deposited in the New York state cannabis revenue fund, which will fund enforcement, as well as education, community grants and drug treatment.
  • Communities to opt out of allowing retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by adopting a local law by Dec. 31.

— Source: New York Governor’s Office

In addition, the governor set a goal of half of the licenses for cultivation, processing and manufacturing at dispensaries going to people disproportionately affected by marijuana enforcement, including minority or woman-owned businesses, distressed farmers and service disabled veterans.

“Small farmers in upstate New York qualify as distressed farms for the most part and have a chance to become part of the industry if they want to,” Gandelman said. “This is not a provision seen in other states; we’ve fought very hard for this.”

The development of an adult use cannabis industry in the state has the potential to reach tax collections up to $350 million a year.

“Nationally, the cannabis industry has employed more people than coal mining with close to a million jobs in cannabis across the country,” Gandelman said. “It’s a huge industry that is quickly growing and that is only with 15 states that are legalized.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.