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As of March 31, 2021, recreational marijuana use is legal in the state of New York. But if you’re wondering why cannabis products didn’t hit retail shelves overnight, you’re not alone.
Lawmakers are still ironing out some key details to ensure a sustainable, safe marijuana market in the Empire State. That means current New York marijuana laws are in a bit of a legal limbo—and we’re here to help you make sense of where they stand today and what to expect as legislative plans progress.
Below, you’ll find a comprehensive breakdown of New York’s marijuana laws, including:
Is marijuana legal in New York?
On March 31, 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) into law, making New York the 15th state in the U.S. to legalize adult use cannabis. [Source]
This law allows New Yorkers 21 and older to possess up to three ounces (85 grams) of cannabis for personal use. The legislation also allows for 24 grams of concentrated cannabis, a more potent product that comes in forms like oils, tinctures and edibles. [Source]
But here’s the catch: for the time being, there is not a way to buy recreational cannabis products in New York.
Let’s take a look at the state’s cannabis history until the present day and where lawmakers plan regulations to go from here.
New York marijuana legalization: a timeline
Medical cannabis has been legally available in New York State since 2014 for eligible residents. [Source]
New Yorkers with a Department of Health (DOH)-issued medical marijuana license can purchase up to a 60-day supply of cannabis from one of the state’s official dispensaries, many of which offer home delivery services.
New York’s medical marijuana history
New York State passed the Boylan Act in 1914, which regulated substances requiring medical prescriptions, including cannabis.
This first phase of medical cannabis use didn’t last long, however. By 1927, prohibition was in full swing in the United States, and New York outlawed cannabis entirely.
The Compassionate Care Act of 2014
New York marijuana prohibition didn’t budge much until 2014 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved the Compassionate Care Act.
This legislation permitted the sale of medical marijuana to eligible New York State residents, means those with qualifying medical conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
Medical Marijuana Expansion under the MRTA
The 2021 MRTA made some major expansions to this existing medical marijuana program. The new legislation:
Growing medical marijuana at home
On October 21, 2021, the state’s Cannabis Control Board also approved regulations that will allow home growing for people with NYS medical marijuana cards.
These marijuana laws are subject to a 60-day public comment period, so they’re expected to go into effect by the end of the year. The policy will allow cardholders to grow up to three mature and three immature cannabis plants at home.
New York’s Recreational Marijuana history
In 1977, New York State became the ninth state to decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana. [Source]
In effect, using cannabis was still illegal under this legislation. But it did ease penalties for marijuana possession. For example, instead of harsh prison sentences, the legislation reduced the punishment for possession of under 25 grams to a $100 fine (a violation similar to a traffic ticket at the time).
A first attempt at marijuana legalization
NYS lawmakers proposed a version of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) in 2019, but it ultimately failed due to regulatory disagreements. Instead, Governor Cuomo amended the 1977 decriminalization law to reduce penalties for possession further.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act
As of March 31, 2021, the MRTA permits adults 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of cannabis and up to 24 grams of cannabis concentrate for personal use.
But while the bill legalized purchasing, possessing and transporting marijuana (in these amounts), retail sales aren’t expected to begin until later in 2022. The newly established Office of Cannabis Management is still finalizing the plan’s logistics and regulations, including those for growers, producers, distributors and retailers.
Once retail marijuana sales do begin, even more provisions come into effect after 18 months:
The bill also addresses long-standing social equity concerns. One of its major goals is to issue at least 50 percent of marijuana business licenses to individuals from “communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition” and underrepresented communities like minority and female-owned businesses, service-disabled veterans and financially distressed farmers.
New York State cannabis law
So, now that recreational marijuana has been legalized in New York, here’s a rundown of what to expect from the current New York cannabis laws under the MRTA.
Where is it safe to buy cannabis in New York?
Recreationally, you still can’t legally buy marijuana. Once lawmakers hammer out the rules for retail licensing, distribution and sales, business owners will be able to apply for a marijuana license to open dispensaries, cannabis cafes, bakeries, hotels and more. But expect to wait until at least the end of 2022 for the first retail sales to begin.
In the meantime, the only legal way to buy cannabis is through the New York State Medical Marijuana Program.
What is the New York State medical marijuana program?
The NYS Medical Marijuana Program is an official initiative that provides access to cannabis for people with certain medical conditions.
Prospective patients must see a medical practitioner registered with the DOH to get certified for program participation. The MRTA recently expanded the criteria for medical marijuana eligibility, meaning that prescriptions are available to more people with a greater range of physical and mental health conditions.
Once you’re certified through a participating medical provider, you can create an account with the DOH to apply for a medical marijuana card.
How much marijuana can I buy in New York?
The MRTA increased the amount of cannabis you can buy from a medical marijuana dispensary from a 30 to a 60-day supply.
Recreationally, you’re allowed to have 3 ounces in your possession. Yet after retail sales have been in place for 18 months, New Yorkers will be allowed to store up to five pounds of marijuana at home. [Source]
Where is it safe to consume cannabis in New York?
Cannabis consumption is allowed in a private home or a state-licensed consumption site.
Smoking or vaping of marijuana is prohibited anywhere smoking tobacco is prohibited.
Hotel owners, landlords and property owners cannot refuse rent to a tenant who uses marijuana but can prohibit cannabis use on-premises.
You are also not allowed to use marijuana products in your car, even if it’s parked.
Cannabis is illegal under federal law, which means you can’t use it on federal land, including national parks and forests.
Does New York State have medical marijuana reciprocity?
No, medical marijuana ID cards or certifications from other states are not accepted in New York.
Can I travel with marijuana in New York?
Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, you can’t cross state lines with any amount in your possession, even if you’re traveling between two states with legal marijuana markets.
Wondering if you can you take marijuana on a plane if you’re flight stays within New York State borders? Earlier this year a Port Authority spokesman who operates JFK and LaGuardia Airports announced that “the agency enforces state laws, so it no longer issues tickets, confiscates marijuana or arrests New Yorkers who possess and transport up to three ounces of the drug in airports.”
Still, keep the federal law in mind and avoid situations where you’re not 100% sure if your actions are legal.
Is it illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis in New York?
Existing laws for impaired driving apply to marijuana, so driving under the influence of cannabis would result in a misdemeanor offense.
The MRTA includes a provision that requires the state to partner with a college or university to study how marijuana affects drivers. This initiative also aims to develop a procedure for law enforcement officers to recognize and detect driver impairment.
Can my employer prohibit cannabis use outside of work?
Per New York Labor Laws, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on cannabis use outside of the workplace. Drug testing employees for marijuana is also not allowed.
That said, employers don’t violate labor laws for disciplining employees due to:
What cannabis products are legal in New York?
Until retail sales begin, only medical cannabis products are legal in New York.
But the MRTA expanded the list of products medical dispensaries can provide to include marijuana flower in addition to concentrated forms of cannabis, like oils, tinctures, edibles and vaping products.
Once retail sales begin, these products will be available recreationally as well.
Is marijuana taxed by the state of New York?
Gov. Cuomo expects marijuana sales to bring in $350 million in tax revenue annually from the bill’s 13 percent sales tax on all cannabis products.
Of this 13 percent tax, 9 percent goes to the state and 4 percent to local governments.
Per the MRTA, the state plans to direct these funds toward program administration costs. The state will then reinvest remaining money into community programs, including:
Will New York marijuana convictions be expunged?
The MRTA established automatic review and expungement processes for low-level marijuana offenses.
Basically, if you were previously convicted of possessing an amount of cannabis that is now legal, that violation will be struck from your record as if it never happened. That means you don’t have to list it on a job application, and it will not show up on a criminal background check.
It can take up to two years for all convictions to be expunged (but in the meantime, they’ll be suppressed, so they still won’t show up on background checks.) If you want to check on the status of your cannabis-related charge, contact the Court where your case was decided.
Marijuana laws for caregivers in New York State
A designated caregiver is someone who can help a medical marijuana patient acquire, transport and use prescribed cannabis. Caregivers must be officially registered with the New York State DOH and carry their registry ID card whenever carrying medical cannabis products. [Source]
The MRTA included a few amendments to current caregiver laws:
Frequently Asked Questions
Is New York recreational or medical?
Medical cannabis is legal for New York residents with a prescription and a DOH-issued card. Recreational adult-use cannabis is technically legal as of March 31, 2021, but sales are not expected to begin until at least late 2022.
Can I grow cannabis at home in New York?
The MRTA permits people to grow up to six cannabis plants (three mature and three seedlings) or up to 12 per household if you live with other adults.
People with a medical marijuana card will likely be able to start growing at home by the end of 2021. All other adults will need to wait until at least 18 months after the first retail marijuana sales begin.
Is on-site consumption of cannabis allowed at cannabis establishments?
Yes, the MRTA will allow social consumption sites like cannabis cafes or clubs to open once retail sales begin. However, the MRTA permits towns, villages and cities to “opt-out” of allowing cannabis consumption sites or retail dispensaries to operate.
Where can I find more information about New York marijuana laws?
The New York State Office of Cannabis Management’s website maintains up-to-date information about the state’s cannabis regulations as legalization plans continue moving forward.
You can also get in touch with one our knowledgeable patient care specialists at your local New York State dispensary to learn more about the most current New York marijuana regulations and restrictions.
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