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What will legal weed mean in NY? Here’s what you need to know

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Walking under a 'We love NY' umbrella in Times Square

The city is still in mourning for those lost to COVID-19, the governor is facing calls to resign, the Knicks are still the Knicks, and the rent is still too damn high, but let’s focus on the positive: New York has legalized recreational cannabis — effective immediately. 

What does the new law entail? When and where can you freely smoke weed in New York? And will the Big Apple soon dethrone Amsterdam as the coffeeshop capital of the world? We’re entering a brave new world of legal cannabis in the Empire State, but let’s take a New York minute to break down what it all means.

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The “Marihuana Regulation And Taxation Act,” signed into law on March 31, 2021, legalizes adult-use cannabis and establishes the office of Cannabis Management. The law will also establish a licensing program for cannabis retailers and producers, and create a social and economic equity program to help people from communities impacted by cannabis prohibition find opportunities in the legal cannabis industry.

Here’s what happens immediately

Smoking weed in the park a few days after it became legal in NY
A New Yorker smokes a joint in Washington Square Park a few days after Governor Cuomo signed a bill to legalize adult-use marijuana, April 3, 2021, New York City. (Ron Adar/Shutterstock)

The new law makes it legal for people over the age of 21 to publicly possess, display, purchase, or transport up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate. The weed law also stipulates that a person may “lawfully possess up to five pounds of cannabis in their private residence.” 

Public consumption is allowed — with some restrictions

Effective immediately, it is legal to consume cannabis in most places where it is legal to smoke tobacco products, including sidewalks and front stoops. It will still be illegal to smoke, vape, or ingest cannabis in a vehicle or on the grounds of a school. Consumption in hotels and rental properties will be legal as long as the owner or landlord permits it.

Municipalities can impose further restrictions, however. New York City, for instance, has banned public consumption in parks, beaches, and other sites.

Most cannabis convictions will be automatically expunged 

Convictions for violations of possession of up to 16 ounces — both misdemeanor and felony charges — will be automatically vacated, dismissed, and expunged by the state. Cannabis offenses that remain illegal under the new law — for instance unlicensed sales, providing cannabis to a minor, or possession of more than the limit — will not be expunged. 

Police can’t use the smell of weed as probable cause anymore

For decades, the odor of cannabis (or what a police officer said was the odor of cannabis) has served as probable cause for police in New York to question, detain, and search people. 

Under the new law, “no finding or determination of reasonable cause to believe a crime has been committed” can be based on the odor of cannabis, the smell of burnt cannabis, the possession of cannabis, or the planting, harvesting, drying, or processing of cannabis. 

During a traffic stop an officer cannot use the smell of burned cannabis as probably cause to search parts of the car not readily accessible to the driver. 

It will still be illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis.

Here’s what will take a few months

Marijuana dispensary in Oregon
Dispensaries won’t open until at least the first half of 2022. (Joshua Rainey Photography/Shutterstock)

Cannabis can be purchased at dispensaries. Just not yet.

Under the new law, the dispensaries can open their doors starting on April 1, 2022, though it could potentially take longer for the first retail cannabis stores to begin operations. The state still needs to staff the Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board, finalize the regulations for cannabis sellers, producters, and growers, and approve licenses for cannabis businesses.  

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The whole process could mean that the first dispensaries in New York won’t open until more than a year from now, but when they do, they will be allowed to sell cannabis flower, edibles, and concentrates — which was not the case under the state’s previous medical marijuana law. 

Cannabis deliveries

Licensed services can deliver cannabis and cannabis products and employ up to 25 full-time couriers. This will only begin once legal sales start.

New Yorkers can cultivate up to 6 plants

A year and a half after the first legal sales begin, New York residents over the age of 21 will be allowed to plant, cultivate, harvest, dry, process, and possess, up to six cannabis plants at any given time. No more than three of the plants can be mature. 

The maximum number of plants allowed in a household will be six mature plants and six immature plants, or 12 immature plants. The plants merely have to be “in a secured place and not accessible to any person under the age of twenty-one.” 

The rules for medical patients will be different.

Amsterdam-style coffee shops

The law provides for the issuing of adult-use, on-site consumption licenses, which would allow licensed establishments to sell cannabis to be consumed on-site. These establishments will not be allowed to host gambling or anyone under the age of 21. The establishments will not be subject to smoking or vaping bans. 

What the law doesn’t mean

Employers or government agencies can still enact their own prohibitions on cannabis use in the workplace. At the same time, the law does include protections against unlawful discirmination regarding cannabis use. 

Not every city or town will necessarily have dispensaries or consumption lounges. The law allows local authorities to adopt laws requesting that the Cannabis Control Board prohibit such businesses within their jurisdiction. The good news? Local authorities only have until December 31, 2021 or nine months after the effective date of the legislation to pass such a law.

Big changes coming to NY’s medical program

Medical cannabis patients will be able to attain a 60-day supply of cannabis, as opposed to the prior limit of 30 days. The new law also greatly expands the list of qualifying conditions to include: 

  • Cancer
  • HIV/AIDS 
  • ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity 
  • Epilepsy
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Neuropathies
  • Huntington’s disease 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Pain that degrades health and functional capability where the use of medical cannabis is an alternative to opioid use 
  • Substance use disorder
  • Alzheimer’s, 
  • Muscular dystrophy, 
  • Dystonia, 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Autism 
  • Any other condition certified by the practitioner. 

Medical cannabis dispensaries will also have the ability to obtain adult-use cannabis licenses. 

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