The Daily Brew: New York is the 3rd state to legalize marijuana through legislation

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

Welcome to the Wednesday, April 7, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. NY becomes third state to legalize recreational marijuana through legislation – New Mexico likely next
  2. Recall against San Francisco school board members approved to circulate petitions
  3. Rep. Alcee Hastings dies

NY becomes third state to legalize recreational marijuana through legislation – New Mexico likely next

New York is the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana, and the third to do so through legislation instead of a voter-approved ballot measure (along with Vermont and Illinois). 

The New Mexico Legislature also passed a bill on March 31 to legalize recreational marijuana. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said she will sign the bill, meaning New Mexico would be the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana and the fourth to do so via legislation

The parts of New York’s law related to possession and home-grow went into effect immediately. On March 30, the New York Senate passed the legalization bill by a 40-23 vote. Twenty Republicans and three Democrats voted against it. The Assembly passed the bill the same day 100-49, with 43 Republicans and six Democrats opposed. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the bill on March 31. According to the Albany Times Union, opponents emphasized concerns about impaired driving. Proponents framed the bill as making progress in the realm of criminal justice.

Here are some highlights of what New York’s measure does:

  • Allows possession of up to three ounces of marijuana.
  • Allows each person to grow up to three mature marijuana plants with a cap of six mature plants per household. 
  • Creates expungement and resentencing processes for anyone convicted on a charge that is no longer a crime under the new law. 
  • Provides for a 13% excise tax on retail marijuana sales. 
  • Cuomo’s office estimated legalization will generate $350 million in annual tax revenue. Revenue above what is required for administration and enforcement of the legislation will go to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, the State Lottery Fund to be spent on general education, the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund, and local municipal and county governments.
  • Enacts a tax ranging from $0.03 to $0.08 per milligram of THC for wholesale to dispensaries.
  • Allows for cities, towns, and villages to pass local laws prohibiting certain retail establishments and regulating certain aspects of their operation. The bill also contains a process for local voters to overturn local legislation banning recreational marijuana retail.
  • Establishes the Office of Cannabis Management to license and regulate recreational marijuana retail and distribution. State officials estimate legal recreational marijuana sales will begin in 18 months to two years.

Among the 13 marijuana legalization ballot measures that have passed in other states, excise taxes on marijuana sales ranged from an initial rate of 3.75% (subject to increase) in Massachusetts to 25% in Washington. The average tax rate was about 13%. The New Jersey ballot measure applied the state’s sales tax to marijuana but prohibited an additional excise tax. 

All but one of the 13 measures—New Jersey’s—explicitly allowed a certain amount of local government control over marijuana regulation. 

Based on 2019 population estimates and currently enacted law, roughly 40% of Americans live in a jurisdiction (one of 15 states or D.C.) with legalized recreational marijuana.

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Recall against San Francisco school board members approved to circulate petitions

The San Francisco Department of Elections approved petition circulation to begin this week in an effort to recall three members of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education. Recall supporters have until Sept. 7 to collect signatures from 10% of registered voters in the city—51,325 signatures—per targeted incumbent. The effort targets board President Gabriela López, Alison Collins, and Faauuga Moliga. 

San Francisco recall law stipulates elected officials cannot be eligible for recall until they have served at least six months. The three board members noted above were first elected in November 2018. The other four board members were either elected or re-elected on Nov. 3, 2020.

Recall supporters said they were frustrated that district schools remained closed for nearly a year in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also criticized the board for voting to rename 44 district buildings. On Feb. 21, López announced the board was putting the building renaming on hold in order to focus on reopening schools. The district is planning to return to in-person learning later this month.

Ten of the 15 school board recall efforts we’re tracking so far this year are related to COVID-19: three in Idaho, three in California, and one each in Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, and Washington. In 2020, nine of the 26 school board recalls we tracked were related to COVID-19. 

Last year, 41 elected officials in California were the subject of recall efforts. Nine of those efforts qualified for the ballot, and six officials were removed from office in recall elections.

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Rep. Alcee Hastings dies

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) died of pancreatic cancer on April 6. He was first elected to represent Florida’s 23rd Congressional District in 1992. Hastings was elected to the 20th District in 2012 following redistricting, where he served until his death. In 2020, he was re-elected with 79% of the vote.

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says governors must call special elections to fill House vacancies. Florida law does not specify a deadline for the special primary or general elections. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that two other vacancies have occurred in Florida’s congressional delegation since 2010.

As of April 6, five special elections to the U.S. House had been called in 2021: Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th Districts, New Mexico’s 1st District, Texas’ 6th District, and Ohio’s 11th District. 

With Hastings’ death, there are six vacancies in the House. There are 218 Democrats and 211 Republicans in the chamber. 

From the 113th to the 116th Congresses, 40 special House elections were held. No partisan changes took place across 18 special elections in the 113th and 114th Congresses. In the 115th Congress, Democrats picked up three seats in special elections. Republicans picked up one seat in a special election for the 116th Congress.

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