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De Blasio: Legalizing Marijuana In NYC Is 'Once-In-A-Generation Opportunity'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Mayor Bill de Blasio is endorsing a plan to legalize marijuana in New York City, saying it's a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to get a historic issue right for future New Yorkers."

Read the Report: Legalizing Marijuana in New York City

"This is an important moment because we're talking about a change that must happen, and it must happen the right way," de Blasio said at a news conference Thursday morning. "What we do know is that the time has come to rewrite the rules. To break the mold of the past. To repair and redeem the lives of people who were treated unjustly. That's what we can do here. And in that spirit, today I announce my support for the legalization of marijuana."

De Blasio says it is important that legalization be handled correctly.

Web Extra: Watch De Blasio's News Conference On Legalizing Marijuana 

"We have one chance to get this right. This is unlike so many other things we have dealt with. We have a chance to get it right here from the beginning, because we're at the starting line. And if we just legalize marijuana and don't deal with the underlying issues, we will look back and say what a lost opportunity this was," de Blasio said. "We have a chance to create a brand new industry that will lift up everyday New Yorkers. And we have a chance to choke off corporate America in the process and not let them get their greedy hands on this industry in this state."

The mayor has in the past expressed concerns about legalizing cannabis. His change of heart comes with caveats, CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported.

On Wednesday night, the mayor released a more-than-70-page report put together by a taskforce, along with a letter of endorsement.

The report outlines priorities he believes should be included in the legalization process, like safety in regulating the market to make sure the supplies are clean and safe, educating the community and young people about the public risks of legalization, and ensuring equity when it comes to cannabis laws, which have disproportionately affected people of color with low-level arrests.

It also details recommendations for state and local licensing, consumer protections and how to regulate local cannabis businesses.

De Blasio's proposal identifies key goals. According to the Mayor's office, those goals are:

  • Establish an Equitable Licensing System: Create local licensing programs, regulate public places of consumption, regulate home and commercial cultivation and manufacturing, and regulate home delivery services.
  • Preserve Communities: Establish zoning and area restrictions for cannabis businesses, as well as restrictions on the density to determine how the location of cannabis businesses can best fit into the fabric of its communities.
  • Protect Public Health: Enforce age limits of 21 and over with civil rather than criminal penalties to violations of cannabis regulations to the greatest extent possible consistent with public safety.
  • Right Historic Wrongs: Recommend automatic expungement of criminal records relating to conduct that may be legalized, including personal use and possession of certain quantities – subject to notice and opportunity by District Attorneys' Offices to raise objections in specific cases.
  • Ensure Product Safety: Recommend statewide standards for product safety, labeling and packaging, marketing, and advertising, as well as a mandatory seed-to-sale tracking system accessible to State and local regulators and financial institutions serving cannabis-related businesses.
  • Put Small Businesses First: Work with State authorities to reduce the risk of market domination by big businesses and foster sustainable growth, in part, by restricting businesses from owning and controlling each stage of the supply chain, which may otherwise be owned by different, specialized businesses.
  • Create Equal Opportunity: Participate in a dual state-local licensing structure that will permit the City to pursue its own innovations to promote economic opportunities created by this new market, subject to the minimum standards set by the State.
  • Ease Access to Capital: Advocate for legislation expressly providing that banking and professional services for cannabis-related businesses do not violate State law.
  • Make Fair Investments: Allocate tax revenue, licensing fees, and other sources of financing to administer the new industry and support cannabis businesses and workers, with a focus on target populations and community reinvestment.
  • Build Local Businesses: Develop an incubator program to provide direct support to equity applicants in the form of counseling services, education, small businesses coaching, and compliance assistance.

"Legalization is at a crossroads, really. There's two routes. Either corporate cannabis will take control, or the will of the people will win the day. That is the choice that we have before us, and we know what happens when the corporate sector runs the show," de Blasio said. "We can't let 'Big Pot' in the door to begin with. We can't let the corporate sector dominate this debate, and lord knows they would love to. Instead we can follow a simple, powerful principle. It doesn't matter what your faith is this holiday season, we celebrate all people, all faiths, but I'll borrow from one faith when I say the principle governing our approach should be the last shall be first and the first shall be last."

"Those who bore the past burdens should reap the benefits of the future. Not corporate executives," de Blasio said. "History is painfully filled with examples of the powerful writing the laws."

More: Think Tank: Marijuana Tax Could Pay For Subway Overhaul

De Blasio called for the new law that would legalize marijuana to simultaneously expunge the records of those with past, low-level marijuana convictions.

"Let's give New Yorkers a clean slate and a fair future," he said. "The majority of licenses to sell and produce legal weed must go to those whose lives were damaged by illegal weed."

The mayor's decision came just days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for statewide legalization.

"Let's legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all," the governor said Monday.

Cuomo has yet to lay out the state's plan to legalize recreational marijuana for adults as he awaits his commissioned study.

De Blasio believes it's only a matter of time before marijuana becomes legal in the state, and he's determined to ensure the city is at the forefront – if and when it happens, CBS2's Janelle Burrell reported.

"I believe legalization is the right path for our city and our state, but it is not without risks. As we move forward we need to answer crucial questions that go beyond whether to legalize or not. And those questions are not limited to what are the public health consequences and who would profit. But so far the public conversation we've been having is not nearly as nuanced as it needs to be, and there's far too much at stake here to get it wrong," said first lady Chirlane McCray.

McCray cited public health problems associated with the legal use of alcohol, tobacco and opioids.

"I know from my own experience that it can be habit forming," McCray said.

McCray said "corporate drug pushers" need to kept "out of the equation entirely."

"Treating marijuana as an illegal substance has, in my view, neither provided us with greater public safety nor certainly has it provided us with greater fairness in our system. In Manhattan, an individual of color is 15 times more likely to have been arrested for marijuana possession than a white similarly situated. And that's simply wrong," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

So far, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult, recreational use.

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