Less than two years ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that marijuana was a "gateway drug" and that he could not support legalizing it. Last week, he made legalizing marijuana a cornerstone of his State of the State address, saying that it could generate $300 million for New York "in a way that creates an economic opportunity for poor communities and people who paid the price" for prohibition. But how does Cuomo's plan stack up against the other legalization proposals in the state, and across the country?

Melissa Moore, the deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said that advocates are still digging through the 191 pages of legislation, but that she's optimistic.

"Based on the tenor of the conversation and the debate that has already been going, New York is poised to legalize, potentially, in the most progressive way that we've seen so far," Moore told Gothamist. "But we have to be incredibly mindful about the details."

Cuomo's Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act would create an Office of Cannabis Management that would oversee recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older, medical marijuana, and hemp. That office would also create separate licensing processes for growers, distributors and sellers. A ban on growers getting into the retail market is aimed at preventing vertical integration, and the governor said that jobs in the cannabis industry will be "good union jobs" (the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union currently represents medical marijuana employees).

The legislation also calls for a 20 percent state tax and a two percent local tax on sales from wholesalers to resellers, while growers would be taxed by the gram.

The governor's proposal would automatically seal criminal records for marijuana offenses that are no longer crimes, and prioritize minority and women-owned businesses for licenses to grow and sell cannabis. Money generated from the program would go to small business development funds and substance abuse programs.

If Cuomo's legislation prevails, marijuana would be legalized shortly after its passage, with sales set for April of 2020.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), sponsored by State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, lays out a framework in which half of marijuana tax revenue after program costs would go towards community grants and reinvestment funds.

An analysis released by City Comptroller Scott Stringer last month showed that seven of the ten New York City neighborhoods with the lowest median household incomes also accounted for more than one third of the city's marijuana arrests.

"There's a lot of conversation around equity programs and licensing and that's great and really important—access to capital is a huge barrier for people," Moore says.

"But there's also a lot of people who don't want to be in a cannabis space for their job but who are from communities that have been criminalized and targeted for enforcement...and it's crucial to invest in these communities that have borne the brunt of prohibition."

Krueger's bill also sets the minimum age for adult consumption at 21, and allows for New Yorkers to grow up to six plants for personal use, similar to how California, Washington D.C., and Massachusetts allow for cultivation. Cuomo's legislation prohibits New Yorkers from growing any marijuana; Washington State is the only other state with legalized cannabis that prohibits any cultivation.

"Medical marijuana patients who weren't able to access their medication due to the really high price, people in the adult use space who can't necessarily afford to pay dispensary prices, and people who just have a green thumb who enjoy growing plants in general" are left out when growing is prohibited, Moore says.

In a statement, Senator Krueger told Gothamist that she was "pleased that the Governor's budget includes a serious effort to create a regulatory structure for cannabis, but the devil is in the details, and there are a lot of them."

"There is much in this proposal that is similar to the legislation I carry with Assm. Peoples-Stokes, but there are some significant differences that we are analyzing," Krueger said. "I look forward to discussing the Governor's proposal with experts and advocates during the budget hearing process."

Both the MRTA and Cuomo's bill allow municipalities to opt-out of the retail aspect of legalized marijuana, though advocates are still looking at differences and potential unintended consequences of the legislation.

"Some communities have real concerns," Cuomo told Brian Lehrer last week, when asked about the opt-out provision. "And my opinion is democracy still exists, especially on an issue like this where people have valid differences of opinion."

Moore called Cuomo's legislation the "opening salvo."

"There will be a lot of discussion and a lot of negotiations around shaping what the actual final text will be," Moore said. "This gives us an important framework to start from and build the conversation."

You can read the text of the legislation below starting on page 200.

Article VII in Governor Cuo... by on Scribd

Correction: This article initially stated that the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act set the minimum age for adult use at 18. In fact, that was an earlier version of the legislation; the current age is 21.