(Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Wednesday to legalize adult use of marijuana, making it the 15th U.S. state to allow recreational use of the drug, while Virginia moved to legalize possession of small amounts by July.
Cuomo said the bill, which was approved by the state Assembly late on Tuesday night, would also wipe the slate clean for many people previously charged with marijuana crimes.
“The bill creates automatic expungement of previous marijuana convictions that would now be legal,” Cuomo wrote on Twitter, announcing that he had just signed the legislation. “This is a historic day.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam proposed moving up the legalization of simple possession of marijuana to July rather than wait until 2024.
Northam said racial disparities in prosecution of marijuana-related crimes prompted him to accelerate the timetable. He cited a report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission which found that Black residents were more than three times as likely to be arrested for possessing small amounts of the drug.
“Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way,” Northam said in a statement.
NORML, a pro-marijuana group, earlier welcomed the news from New York state, saying that tens of thousands of New Yorkers were arrested every year over petty marijuana offenses, and that most were young, poor, and people of color.
“The legalization of marijuana is a racial and criminal justice imperative, and today’s vote is a critical step towards a fairer and more just system,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.
New York state’s official website recently projected that tax collection from the adult-use cannabis program would reach $350 million annually and also create 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs across the state.
(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Michael Perry and Bernadette Baum)