New York Bill Would Legalize Recreational Marijuana, Thwart Federal Prohibition

ALBANY, N.Y. (Mar. 9, 2017) – A bill introduced in the New York Senate would legalize marijuana for recreational use. Passage would also take a big step toward thwarting federal cannabis prohibition in practice in the Empire State.

Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), along with nine co-sponsors, introduced Senate Bill 3040 (S3040) to legalize recreational cannabis under a new regulatory regime enforced at the state-level. The legislation reads, in part:

"The intent of this act is to regulate, control, and tax marihuana in a manner similar to alcohol, generate millions of dollars in new revenue, prevent access to marihuana by those under the age of eighteen years, reduce the illegal drug market and reduce violent crime, reduce the racially disparate impact of existing marihuana laws, allow industrial hemp to be farmed in New York state, and create new industries and increase employment."

“Our current unjust laws are branding nonviolent New Yorkers, especially young adults and people of color, as criminals, creating a vicious cycle that ruins lives and needlessly wastes taxpayer dollars,” Sen. Krueger said in a public statement.

S3040 would permit individuals 18-or-older to possess, grow or transport “no more than six marihuana plants, with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants, provided that the plants are grown in an enclosed, locked space, not openly or publicly, and that the marihuana is not sold.” Individuals would be permitted to grow marijuana in their domicile for personal consumption purposes only, unless first being licensed and regulated by the state.

Marijuana possession would still be illegal if an individual is under the age of 18 or consuming the product in public. Possession would be permitted as long as its up to “sixty-four ounces for any mixtures or substances containing marihuana in solid form, or more than two gallons for any mixtures or substances containing marihuana in liquid form, or more than one ounce of concentrated cannabis.”

If S3040 is successful during next year’s legislative session, New York would be the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature rather than the ballot initiative process. Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as S3040 remain perfectly legal, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.

LEGALITY

The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970 prohibits all of this behavior. Of course, the federal government lacks any lawful authority to ban or regulate marijuana 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.

Legalization of marijuana in New York would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, New York essentially sweeps 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 could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and blocking it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states earlier this month.

With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. 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,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.

WHAT’S NEXT?

S3040 will need to pass the Senate Committee on Finance before it can be considered by the full Senate.