March 31st was a day of celebration for cannabis advocates as they watched New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sign the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which legalized marijuana across the state of New York for people 21 and up. The Empire State became the 15th U.S. state to do so. Thus begins a new era of legalized cannabis.
However, many New Yorkers are still a little hazy on which laws have changed, and even on what’s legal and what isn’t. That’s understandable because the state’s recreational cannabis laws aren’t fully developed yet. We still have a long way to go before we know what the final shape of legalization in New York will be, but we can take a few educated guesses. Whether you’re an upstater or a Brooklynite, a lifelong resident or just passing through, we’ve got the need-to-know facts on marijuana legalization in NY. Read on to find out more about the status of legal weed, marijuana bonds for businesses, and more.
What’s Legal Right Now?
In four fast facts, here’s the need-to-know information about the current legal status of cannabis in New York:
- Possessing, smoking, eating, or vaping cannabis is legal right now for adults 21 and over in the state of New York. You don’t need a prescription or any other special permission to do so.
- People may legally possess and use up to three ounces of marijuana flowers on their person or 24 grams of marijuana concentrates. You can legally store up to five pounds at your home.
- You can enjoy cannabis products anywhere you can smoke tobacco. That could include your home or a public sidewalk, but it won’t include cars, schools, hospitals, or other places where you can’t smoke a cigarette.
- It’s still not legal to buy or sell marijuana outside of existing medicinal marijuana programs. Buying and selling cannabis products for recreational use won’t become legal until adult-use dispensaries open.
To sum it up: Using and possessing marijuana is now unambiguously legal in New York, but selling it is still technically against the law. Of course, that begs the question: When can we expect legal cannabis sales to kick off in New York?
When Will Adults Use Dispensaries Open?
Short answer: not for a while. Dispensaries won’t be able to open until several months into 2022, at the earliest, to give the state of New York time to fully develop its rules and regulations for these businesses. When dispensary regulations are ready, they’ll come from the New York Office of Cannabis Management, the new agency with the mandate for regulating legal cannabis.
What about people who want to open dispensaries, become marijuana growers, or otherwise join the world of legal cannabis businesses? New York has yet to announce its process for getting a cannabis license. However, if it’s anything like other states’ procedures, it will involve standard elements like an application packet, the payment of fees, a criminal background check, and a marijuana surety bond.
We do know that the state will have a tiered licensing system with separate licenses for different types of businesses like growers and dispensaries. The state will also issue only one license per business, which means (for example) that growers can’t also have dispensary licenses or vice versa. If New York chooses to require marijuana surety bonds, it will be important for businesses to know what a surety bond is and the types of marijuana bonds available so they can obtain the right type.
How Will Medicinal Marijuana Change?
The legalization bill included provisions for expanding New York’s existing medicinal marijuana program. For one thing, medical dispensaries can now sell whole cannabis flowers, which they’ve long been unable to do. Another factor of the MRTA is an expanded list of conditions for which a doctor can prescribe cannabis products—great news for people with any of the dozens of conditions that marijuana may help treat. At their discretion, New York doctors can even prescribe cannabis for conditions that aren’t specifically listed.
The state’s existing marijuana companies that sell medical cannabis and operate dispensaries will have the option of paying a one-time fee to allow them to enter the recreational cannabis market in addition to their existing medical business. These businesses will have an advantage in that they will be the only type of cannabis business able to obtain multiple license types.
Can I Grow Marijuana in My Home?
Eventually, it will be legal for any New Yorker over 21 to grow marijuana in their home for their use, but it’s not legal just yet. Patients with medical prescriptions will be able to begin growing six months after legalization begins, which should be around September 2021. Recreational growers will have to wait longer—18 months after the first dispensary opens, to be precise.
Once growing becomes legal, a person can legally have up to three mature plants and three immature ones at once. If multiple adults live together, their residence can legally have up to 12 plants, six mature and six immature.
How Will Lawmakers Address Racial Justice?
New York lawmakers made it clear that their efforts will include measures to help repair the inequities caused by the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws against people of color. Let’s examine how these programs will look. One of the legalization bill’s key components is its allocation of a large portion of cannabis tax revenues to reinvestment in marginalized communities. Lawmakers specified that 40 percent of New York’s revenue from weed sales taxes goes to a social equity fund to bolster infrastructure and jobs in communities of color. Another 40 percent will go to the state’s schools, and the final 20 percent is for drug abuse treatment programs.
Another important provision: At least 50 percent of licenses for adult-use cannabis businesses have to go to social equity applicants—people from communities harmed by cannabis criminalization. That category looks like it will be fairly wide, including people of color, women, people previously convicted of cannabis charges, and farmers.
Do Previous Marijuana Charges Get Expunged?
MRTA automatically expunges certain cannabis offenses from people’s criminal records. This is designed to happen automatically, but it may take up to two years to remove all charges from a person’s record. Talk to an attorney if you’re unsure about how this will affect your criminal record or if you have a charge that should be expunged.