New York has officially become the fifteenth state in America to allow legal recreational marijuana. After years of trying to get that legislation passed, New York lawmakers this week finalized a deal, which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law. People age 21 and older in New York can now have up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate under Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.

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Outside of your home, smoking marijuana will now be permitted anywhere the use of tobacco is allowed. In New York City, that will mean parks, beaches, boardwalks, playgrounds, and open plazas will all be no-go zones for smoking. Governor Cuomo put out a news release along with several other local lawmakers, celebrating the passage of the bill. "This is a historic day in New York - one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State's economy and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits," said Governor Cuomo.

"This was one of my top priorities in this year's State of the State agenda and I'm proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety, and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis. I thank both the Leader and the Speaker, and the tireless advocacy of so many for helping make today's historic day possible."

The website for the Office of Cannabis Management is already up and running. That office is responsible for enforcing the regulatory framework for oversight of both medical and adult-use cannabis. It'll host a five-member board, with three members appointed by the Governor, and one appointment chosen by each house.

The market projections

The move puts New York in a position to be one of the largest marijuana markets in the nation. Experts are predicting cannabis could become a $4.2 billion industry in the state, creating 30,000 to 60,000 brand new jobs. By 2023, the state should already be in a $1.2 billion market that would generate between $301 million and $427 million in excise and retail tax revenue in just the first two years.

The 2021 New York Cannabis Legalization Market Opportunity Analysis expects residents, tourists, and commuters will consume 747,000 pounds of marijuana flower or its equivalent.  That money will go into the New York state cannabis revenue fund. The profits will first cover costs to implement the law and administer the program. From there, the funding will be split:

  • 40% of the remaining revenue will go to education
  • 40% will go to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund
  • 20% will go to the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund.

The state is creating a new tax structure specific to cannabis. Rather than taxing by weight, New York will tax per milligram of THC at the distributor level, with varying rates depending on the type of product that THC is in. There will be a 9% wholesale state excise tax, and the local excise tax will be 4% of the retail price. Counties get 25% of that revenue, and the rest goes to the municipality.

The new law specifies that there will be separate licenses for producers and distributors, both of which will be under strict quality control mandates.  The state also says: "A social and economic equity program would facilitate individuals disproportionally impacted by cannabis enforcement, including creating a goal of 50% of licenses to go to a minority or woman-owned business enterprise, or distressed farmers or service-disabled veterans to encourage participation in the industry."

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The rollout

The bill being signed into law is just the first step. There's still a long way to go before cultivation and sale also start-up. The governor doesn't expect dispensaries to open for over a year.  After a while, the bill will also let individuals possess up to 3 mature plants and 3 immature plants if they’re starting up their own home grow. Households are limited to 6 mature and 6 immature ones, though. 

Soon enough, though, New York will have specific "consumption sites" that allow for public cannabis use. The state is also working on a program to allow the delivery of cannabis products straight to your door. Local municipalities will be able to opt-out of marijuana sales. Mayors of beach towns in Long Island, near the state capital's border with Queens, have already said they won't allow marijuana sales within their communities.

Some have said they're worried that marijuana is a gateway drug that could lead to deaths. There are some elements of the bill that start up right away. The law automatically expunges or resentences anyone who has a criminal record for a marijuana crime that would now be considered legal. 94% of cannabis-related arrests in New York City in 2020 were of Black or Hispanic people.

"For generations, too many New Yorkers have been unfairly penalized for the use and sale of adult-use cannabis, arbitrarily arrested and jailed with harsh mandatory minimum sentences. After years of tireless advocacy and extraordinarily hard work, that time is coming to an end in New York State," said Governor Cuomo. "Legalizing adult-use cannabis isn't just about creating a new market that will provide jobs and benefit the economy -- it's also about justice for long-marginalized communities and ensuring those who've been unfairly penalized in the past will now get a chance to benefit. I look forward to signing this legislation into law."

Medicinal cannabis expansions

The law expands medical cannabis access, too. Before, patients were restricted from smoking cannabis flower, which is the more affordable choice. That is now changing. Medical cannabis patients can also get a 60-day supply at once, which is double the former limit. It also gives doctors discretion to recommend medical marijuana for any condition they feel warrants the prescription; before, only a small number of severe diseases like AIDS, cancer, and epilepsy qualified.

The state also plans to complete a research study to learn more about how to notice and test to see whether people are high while driving. After the study is completed, the New York State Department of Health says it may implement new rules and regulations and even approve a new type of test that detects cannabis in drivers' bodies. Driving while under the influence of marijuana is still prohibited.