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New York Lawmakers Are Expected To Legalize Recreational Marijuana

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

New York is about to become the 15th state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize recreational marijuana. State lawmakers are expected to vote on that later today. Officials say they hope to create a regulated industry with tens of thousands of jobs while ending racially biased drug arrests. NPR's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Police across New York state still arrest hundreds of people every year for possessing small personal-use amounts of pot. Studies show people of color are far more likely to be prosecuted for marijuana possession. Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, says her bill will end that.

LIZ KRUEGER: I think it's a huge change. We're going to be expunging the criminal records of tens of thousands of people.

MANN: Governor Andrew Cuomo says he'll sign the measure. His office estimates annual tax revenues from legal pot sales could eventually reach $350 million a year, with as many as 60,000 jobs. Krueger says the law directs those benefits to neighborhoods hit hard by addiction and high arrest rates.

KRUEGER: Forty percent of the revenues that will come out of the taxes from legal marijuana will go right back into those communities that were harmed by the drug war.

MANN: Critics of this bill acknowledge pot legalization is unstoppable. Sandra Doorley is a Republican prosecutor who heads the New York State District Attorney's Association.

SANDRA DOORLEY: We understand that it's going to be a reality.

MANN: Doorley worries the measure doesn't give police clear authority to deal with motorists impaired by marijuana.

DOORLEY: If you legalize marijuana and you stop someone who you believe is impaired, you know, how are we going to be able to prove it?

MANN: Democrats agree it's hard to detect motorists impaired by marijuana, and they're backing new research to develop better roadside cannabis tests. Recreational use of marijuana remains a federal crime.

Brian Mann, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PSALM TREES AND GUILLAUME MUSCHALLE'S "HOLDING NO HANDS (FEAT. NO SPIRIT)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.