When Manhattan was settled by Dutch explorers as a trading outpost in the early 17th century, they called it "New Amsterdam." Just about 400 years later, New York City could be poised to reconnect with its Amsterdam roots.
Two separate bills have been presented to the New York Senate and State Assembly to fully legalize recreational cannabis for personal use, as well as allowing businesses to cultivate, process and sell cannabis products to adults 21 and older.
S3040 and A3506 are the the two pieces of legislation that could potentially bring legal cannabis culture to New York City in an unprecedented way.
However unlikely their odds of passage may be, the legalization of cannabis would stimulate local businesses, as well as relieve the city's population - especially its minority citizens - of harsh enforcement of marijuana crimes by the police.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, over 16,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2015, and arrest numbers for the first six months of 2016 were up 29% from the same period in 2015. The NYPD arrests African-Americans at 7 times the rate of white people, and Latinos at nearly 4 times the rate of white people.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, citing a national “dramatic shift in public opinion,” recently came out in support of a statewide decriminalization of cannabis. He argued that New York should remove “...the criminal penalties that too often result in the over-prosecution and jailing of nonviolent individuals.” 90% of New York marijuana arrests were for possession, rather than distribution.
Notably, the Governor stopped well short of calling for legalization and regulation:
“The illegal sale of marijuana cannot and will not be tolerated in New York State, but data consistently shows that recreational users of marijuana pose little to no threat to public safety.”
In Colorado, the state reported nearly $1 billion in tax revenue generated from marijuana sales in 2015, so it's perplexing why Cuomo wouldn't support state regulation of cannabis.
California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada all legalized and regulated pot sales in the 2016 election.
Will we soon be seeing fully legal, industrial-scale grow operations in upstate New York supplying Amsterdam-style "coffee shops" and weed boutiques on every major avenue in the Five Boroughs?
Only time will tell. If you're the impatient activist type, and you happen to live in New York, you can reach out to your representatives to argue for cannabis legalization by following this link.