New York lawmakers agree to legalize recreational marijuana

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2017, file photo, James MacWilliams prunes a marijuana plant that he is growing indoors in Portland, Maine. New York has failed in recent years to pass marijuana legalization, but a state senator said lawmakers have reached an agreement to legalize marijuana sales to adults over the age of 21. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2017, file photo, James MacWilliams prunes a marijuana plant that he is growing indoors in Portland, Maine. New York has failed in recent years to pass marijuana legalization, but a state senator said lawmakers have reached an agreement to legalize marijuana sales to adults over the age of 21. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

New York is poised to join a growing number of states that have legalized marijuana after state lawmakers reached a deal to allow sales of the drug for recreational use.

The agreement reached Saturday would expand the state's existing medical marijuana program and set up a a licensing and taxation system for recreational sales. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill Tuesday, the earliest they could consider it. Legislative leaders hope to vote on the budget Wednesday to meet the deadline of having a budget in place by April 1.

It has taken years for the state's lawmakers to come to a consensus on how to legalize recreational marijuana in New York. Democrats, who now wield a veto-proof majority in the state Legislature, have made passing it a priority this year, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has estimated legalization could eventually bring the state about $350 million annually.

“My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities,” Sen. Liz Krueger, Senate sponsor of the bill and chair of the Senate’s finance committee, said.

The legislation would allow recreational marijuana sales to adults over the age of 21, and set up a licensing process for the delivery of cannabis products to customers. Individual New Yorkers could grow up to three mature and three immature plants for personal consumption, and local governments could opt out of retail sales.

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

Adam Goers, a vice president of Columbia Care, a New York medical marijuana provider that’s interested in getting into the recreational market, said New York’s proposed system would “ensure newcomers have a crack at the marketplace” alongside the state’s existing medical marijuana providers.

“There’s a big pie in which a lot of different folks are going to be able to be a part of it,” Goers said.