woman smoking a joint

New York Officially Legalizes Adult-Use Cannabis

In a historic move by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the democrats, New York legalized recreational cannabis for everyone over the age of 21. These are the ins and outs of the new legislation. (1)

New York Legalizes Recreational Cannabis

On March 25, 2021, New York legalized recreational cannabis for all people aged 21 and older. The recreational industry is estimated to generate $350 million a year in tax revenue, billions of dollars in sales, and provide thousands of new jobs and business opportunities for the state.

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“This is a historic day in New York,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said about his recently passed legislation that legalizes recreational cannabis 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,” (1)

This bill was years in the making. Governor Cuomo legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2014 and has been saying he will legalize recreational cannabis since 2018. New York is the 15th state to legalize the drug, shortly behind neighboring New Jersey, which legalized it earlier this year. (1) Though some say that his move to push the bill forward is an effort to distract voters from the sexual assault claims made against him, it is still a positive step forward for the state. (1)

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The Details of The Bill

Though still months away from sales and seeing cannabis shops pop up, the bill is quite comprehensive. For starters, the rules that apply to smoking tobacco will all apply to marijuana, as well. (1) This means that smoking marijuana is not allowed (2):

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  • Inside indoor public spaces and on public transit
  • In schools, workplaces, or inside a car
  • At all New York City parks, including Central Park
  • Beaches and boardwalks
  • Playgrounds and pools
  • Public Golf Courses
  • Sports Stadiums
  • Pedestrian Plazas (ex. Times Square)

Individuals are now allowed to have up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrated forms of the drug (i.e., oils) in their possession at any time. They are also permitted to grow up to six plants in their home for personal use. (1)

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A Bill of Equity

This bill, however, extends far further than simply legalizing cannabis. One of the major goals of legalization is to give back to communities that have been more affected by the war on drugs. 40% of the legalization revenue is marked to be reinvested in largely black and Latinx communities that experienced a disproportionate number of arrests on marijuana-related offenses. (1) On top of that, all cannabis-related charges that are no longer criminal will be removed from affected persons’ records. (1)

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 “Equity is not a second thought, it’s the first one, and it needs to be, because the people who paid the price for this war on drugs have lost so much.” says bill sponsor and Democratic majority leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes. (1)

Rules will also be put in place to prevent anyone from monopolizing the market and allowing space for small and large operations alike. The only industry that will be allowed to grow and dispense is the medical marijuana industry. Thanks to the new legislation, practitioners will now be able to recommend marijuana as a treatment whenever they see fit, not just for specific illnesses. Also, they will be able to make products using more than just the flower, which will provide more versatility and more affordable options for treatments. (1)

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Some Aspects Will Take Time

While the criminal charges being dropped and allowing people to have marijuana in their possession go into effect immediately, other parts of the bill will take time. This is because officials are still working out the details of the regulations. The specifics of the laws against driving while high are still being ironed out, and it will be about a year before cannabis lounges and dispensaries open up. Localities will also have the option to not permit dispensaries from opening in their area. (1)

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The Benefits of New York Legalizing Recreational Cannabis

There are several reasons why legalizing recreational cannabis will benefit the state of New York. While some may contest some of these benefits, there’s one that is hard to argue with: Economic benefit.

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Legalization has already proven to be a billion-dollar industry in the other states that it is legal in. Colorado had over $1.7 billion in marijuana sales in 2019 and collected more than $302 million in taxes and fees. California’s 2018 cannabis sales generated 411.3 million in excise tax, $98.9 million in cultivation tax, and $335.1 million in sales tax, and Massachusetts reported $393.7 million in sales in their first year of legalization. (3)

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In every state where cannabis is legal, it has created tens of thousands of jobs. On top of this, taxpayer money is no longer being spent on incarcerating people for having small amounts of marijuana in their possession. Currently, federal marijuana enforcement costs billions of dollars every year. (3)

Where Is Recreational Cannabis Legal?

In the United States, recreational cannabis is legal in the following states (4):

  • Washington
  • Montana
  • Oregon
  • Nevada
  • California
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Alaska
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • Vermont
  • Massachusetts
  • Maine
  • New Jersey
  • New York

A ballot has been passed in South Dakota to legalize the drug, but policymakers face several legal challenges. Additionally, there are several states where only medical marijuana is legal. These include (4):

  • Utah
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Minnesota
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Louisiana
  • Florida
  • Ohio
  • West Virginia
  • Virginia
  • Maryland
  • Pennsylvania
  • Connecticut
  • New Hampshire
  • Delaware

Mississippi has voted for medical use, but it has not yet been passed. Several other states that already use it medically are working on legislation to legalize recreational cannabis, and in all other states, it is still illegal. (4) In Canada, policymakers took a different approach. Instead of leaving legalization up to individual provinces to decide, they legalized recreational marijuana federally in July 2018. Regulatory decisions were left primarily up to the provinces, much in the same way as their alcohol industry. Largely, the move is seen as a success. (5)

A Step Forward For New York

Though many republicans still oppose the bill, the majority of New York citizens are excited about the positive changes that it will hopefully incite. This is the direction that more and more places around North America and the world are going, so New York is right in line with them.

“I cannot be more proud to cast my vote to end the failed policies of marijuana prohibition in our state and begin the process of building a fair and inclusive legal market for adult use cannabis,” said State Senator Liz Krueger. “It has been a long road to get here, but it will be worth the wait.” (1)

Keep Reading: Scientist: Cannabis-Based Antibiotics Could Be Available Within Five Years

Sources

  1. New York Legalizes Recreational Marijuana, Tying Move to Racial Equity.” NY Times. Luis Ferré-Sadurní. March 31, 2021.
  2. New York City for Smokers – Where You Can and Cannot Smoke.” NYCBY Natives
  3. The Economic Benefits of Legalizing Weed.” Investopedia. Mrinalini Krishna. Apr 2, 2021.
  4. Marijuana legalization is sweeping the US. See every state where cannabis is legal.Business Insider. Jeremy Berke, et al. February 22, 2021.
  5. The verdict: Canada’s legalization of cannabis is a success.” The Conversation. Bill Bogart. July 19, 2020.
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
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