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States Accelerate Marijuana Policy Reforms

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While the White House is cracking down on the use of marijuana by staff members, governors and lawmakers around the country are taking a very different approach: accelerating their efforts to legalize cannabis and purge the criminal records of people convicted of possessing the drug.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed a bill passed in the Democratic-controlled legislature that decriminalizes the possession of up to three ounces of marijuana, imposes a 13 percent sales tax on the substance, and purges the state records of those previously convicted of minor possession infractions.

Forty percent of the tax revenue from pot sales will be steered to communities where Black and Latino people have been disproportionately arrested on marijuana charges.

“For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences,” said Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday night, soon after the state legislature passed the bill. He added, “This landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public.”

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, also a Democrat, asked lawmakers to push up the date of marijuana legalization in the state from the start of 2024 to July 1 of this year, proposing amendments to a bill, passed last month also by a Democrat-controlled legislature, that makes it legal for residents to carry up to one ounce. And he proposed speeding up the expungement and sealing of marijuana-related criminal records.

The new provision is likely to be passed by lawmakers during an upcoming one-week special session in Richmond.

The accelerated timetable will “advance public health protections, set clear expectations for labor protections in the cannabis industry, and begin to seal criminal records immediately,” Mr. Northam said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way.”

Mr. Biden, unlike most other Democratic candidates in 2020, did not support federal legalization of marijuana, but he has said he supports the efforts of individual states to take action if they see fit.

And they have seen fit.

In the fall, voters in Arizona approved a referendum to legalize recreational marijuana in November. In January, less than three months after the vote, the Arizona Department of Health Services, under Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, began approving applications for dispensaries — months faster than had been anticipated.

“It was kind of like ripping a Band-Aid off,” said Jennifer Matarese, the president of a management company that runs Local Joint in Phoenix.

Several other states — New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana — voted in favor of legalization in November. New Jersey is expected to move fairly quickly, but in South Dakota and Montana recreational cannabis legalization is on a slower track.

The trend has come to a notable halt at the gates of the White House, though.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said earlier this month, that five employees had been fired during employee security checks, and reminded reporters that possession of the drug is “still illegal federally.”

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